THE COMMUNICATION OF VALUES
THROUGH A HIGH SCHOOL RECOGNITION PROGRAM
B.A., Fort Lewis College, 1984
M.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1990
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Administration, Supervision, and Curriculum Development
1996 by Christopher King
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
has been approved
(Ph.D., Administration, Supervision, and Curriculum Development)
The Communication of Values Through a High School Recognition Program
thesis directed by Associate Professor Paul Bauman
This study analyzed how values were communicated through a high school
recognition program, specifically, the Renaissance Program sponsored by Jostens. Inc.
The literature review related critical theory, social reproduction theory, cultural
anthropology, organizational theory, communication theory, and motivation theory to
the topic of values in schools.
One high school was studied in depth. Ethnographic methods of data collection
and analysis were used, including interviews, questionnaires, direct observation, and
document analysis. Data and results were presented in ethnographic form.
Four core findings emerged:
1. The program communicated an implicit status system existing at the
2. Material success was valued by students in the school, and students
associated success in school with material attainment;
3. Personal responsibility on the part of students and adults in the school
was valued; and
4. A positive school image in the community was valued by persons
associated with the school.
The study found that Renaissance was an accepted component of the dominant
cultures belief system. The program was built upon values which already existed in the
culture. Renaissance proved to be an excellent mechanism for communicating those
values, but they were not created with the program's implementation. The expectation
that those students who showed merit should be rewarded and recognized over those
who didn't permeated the school's culture. Renaissance simply communicated that
expectation in a more focused and concerted way than it had been previously.
Renaissance was a medium, and the medium reflected the culture more than it altered it.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis,
To Kelley, my wife,
and Polly, my mother,
for putting up with me.
I wish to thank Paul Bauman, my Committee Chairman,
for his unwavering commitment to my education in general
and to this research specifically.
I would also like to thank Phi Delta Kappa International
for awarding this research project the Howard M. Soule
Graduate Fellowship for Dissertation Research.
1. INTRODUCTION ........................................................
The Study of Values ..........................................
Purpose of the Study .........................................
Relevance of the Study .......................................
Delimitations of the Study ...................................
2. LITERATURE REVIEW....................................................
Literature Related to Critical Theory ........................
Literature Related to Social Reproduction Theory..............
Literature Related to Cultural Anthropology...................
Literature Related to Organizational Theory and Communication ....
Literature Related to Motivation, Recognition, and Assessment.
3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY ................................................
Grounded Theory ..............................................
Connoisseurship and Educational Criticism ....................
Impressionist Tales ..........................................
Data Collection ..............................................
Direct Observations ....................................
Document and Artifact Analysis .........................
Analysis Procedures ........................................44
Descriptive Analysis ...........................48
4. RENAISSANCE AT WESTWOOD ...................................50
Community Portrait ...................................50
Chronology of Renaissance ............................53
Characteristic Comments ..............................88
5. ANALYSIS OF CORE FINDINGS .................................98
Individual Status ...................................98
Material Success ....................................103
Personal Responsibility .............................106
School Image ........................................108
6. PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ......................................Ill
Student Questionnaire ....................................119
Faculty Questionnaire .....................................121
Interview Questions .......................................125
Jostens Renaissance Logo ..................................128
Westwood High School 1993-1996 Renaissance Statistics......130
I desire to see the time when education, and by its means,
morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry,
shall become much more general than at present.
Abraham Lincoln, 1832
The Study of Values
The study of values in American public schools is broad in scope. Many
researchers are interested in identifying how values are taught in schools through
explicit curricular initiatives designed to improve the value systems of young people
(Childs, 1987; Learner, 1976). Other research on values and education focuses more
specifically on which values should be imparted to the nation's young people. For
example, in 1993, the Board of Directors of Phi Delta Kappa International
commissioned a three-year study in which local chapters would engage in
a uniform (i. e., standardized) series of activities and processes that would
organize educators and, more importantly, non-educators, in those communities
to work through exercises, engage in in-depth discussions, and reach
consensus on which values are important, including whether schools should
teach or emphasize those values (Frymier, Cunningham. Duckett. Gansneder.
Link, Rimmer, Scholz, 1996).
This kind of research focuses on how values are taught explicitly as content in
classrooms, schools, or school systems nationwide. However, considerably less has
been written about how schools convey cultural values implicitly through organizational
norms and behaviors. Yet this area of research the communication of values through
institutional programs and organizational behaviors strikes at the heart of the
educational endeavor, and promises to uncover embedded meanings relevant to the
transmission of culture through the educational system.
Any systematic quest to identify how cultural values are communicated through
programs and organizational norms in the schools should focus on values which are
core to the culture, tools, processes, or technologies which are used to communicate
these values, and the people immersed in the communication acts (Kimball, 1974. pp.
113-123). Questions about the power and status relationships between groups of
persons communicating become relevant, as do questions about the nature of the values
communicated. These kinds of questions have more to do with discovering underlying
forces than identifying effective strategies. The answers to be found through this style
of inquiry have more to do with meaning than with effectiveness, and involve more the
interpretation of symbols and events than the quantification of incidents and activities.
Purpose of the Study
To explore how values are communicated in institutions, it makes sense to look
at the ways in which certain behaviors are rewarded, and then to uncover what values
drive those behaviors, and how those values and behaviors are linked to institutional
goals (Haas, Sypher, and Sypher, 1992). The assumption is that an institutional culture
will reward those behaviors which manifest its values. These rewards can come in a
variety of ways, including financial compensation, advancement through the system, or
symbolic recognition in public for behaviors which are aligned with cultural values.
Whatever their form, these rewards serve as a kind of communication activity and help
to focus attention on behaviors which the culture desires to have repeated. Rewards and
recognition in this light help an institutional culture focus on those behaviors which
reflect its values and operate to persuade members of the culture to behave in certain
culturally appropriate ways. However, it may be too simple to say that a culture
rewards and recognizes behaviors only to reinforce values and align future behaviors
with those values. Other forces are operating which deserve exploration.
The questions become:
1. Why does a culture reward certain behaviors?
2. What are the forms these cultural rewards may take?
3. What are the relationships between cultural values and
4. Is recognition a form of communication?
At some level, most Americans probably feel that one of the roles of a school is
to transmit cultural values. According to Spindler and Spindler (1990), "The way any
culture maintains itself is through education and the American culture is no exception"
(p. 3). Reaching consensus on what values schools should impart is a difficult and
seldom achieved process, but the idea that schools are used to instill community values
in young people is hardly unique. In schools, the communication of values takes place
at many times and in many ways, and schools are therefore excellent sites for the study
of how values are communicated in institutional cultures. However, even in an
individual school, the methods of recognizing, reinforcing, and rewarding value-laden
behaviors are vast. A focused unit of study is needed in order to contribute knowledge
to questions of this magnitude.
Schools have numerous traditional methods of recognizing students and
communicating which students have shown success in the attainment of institutional
goals. Honor rolls, graduation ceremonies, and letter grades are but a few of the tools
used by schools to reward student success. Some schools have programs specifically
designed to recognize student achievement. One such program is Renaissance, a
national school renewal project sponsored by Jostens, Inc. Renaissance is designed to
reward student and faculty achievement by recognizing activities and behaviors which
contribute to successful schools. In promotional literature distributed by Jostens. the
"Renaissance Vision" states:
By partnering with the educational community, our vision is to create a
"renaissance" in schools across the country where academic excellence,
continuous improvement, and citizenship are promoted and recognized.
Jostens Renaissance, a service of Jostens, Inc., helps schools begin on
their journey for teaching and learning excellence. Renaissance is a process that
empowers students, educators, administrators, parents, business and
community organizations to work together to enhance student achievement,
celebrate success and increase community involvement in our schools.
Renaissance schools remove the barriers to success and more students than ever
before are able to reach their full potential (Jostens, 1994. p. 3).
Renaissance schools employ a wide variety of techniques to recognize students.
Each school sets its own goals, but generally the program's focus is on academic
success and good attendance. Common to all Renaissance schools is the "Gold Card,"
issued to students with high grade point averages which entitles them to discounts on
products and services at local businesses. Students with lower GPA's are issued
different colored cards with less valuable discounts associated with them. Other
recognition activities include "pep" assemblies modeled after those used by schools to
promote athletic teams, and recognition luncheons and banquets for students who have
improved their grades and attendance. All Renaissance programs focus on the
development of partnerships between area businesses and the school site. Typically
Renaissance programs raise money from businesses and spend it on student
recognition. Over 6,(XX) schools are involved with Renaissance nationwide.
The focused study of a single Renaissance school, then, should help address
the central, all-encompassing question this study seeks to answer: How does a formal
school recognition program communicate values, and whose values are emphasized?
The school this research was conducted in will not be identified by its actual
name or location. Individuals at the school received pseudonyms as well. This research
constitutes a search for patterns in culture, and identifying the site of the research or
individuals involved in the study is not necessary and could be detrimental.
The selection of a Renaissance school as a site to conduct research on the
communication of cultural values allowed for the notion of community to be broadened
to include all the players in the school environment while still providing a specific focus
on recognition activities. As an institutional program, Renaissance reflects the values of
the dominant school culture, and the study of this program at a single school allowed
for the exploration of incongruities in value systems between the various sub-cultures
which constitute the school community students, teachers, parents, business persons.
Little formal research has been conducted on the Renaissance program, with the
notable exception of a dissertation (Wing, 1993) focusing on two Renaissance
programs in Montana. Wing's research uses statistical analysis to determine if any
significant change occurs in student attendance during the time studied, and uses
random interviews of students to identify values related to their post-secondary
educational "dreams" and their feelings about the relationship of a "work ethic" to
success beyond school, or the "good life." She finds that Renaissance is not
responsible for any measurable change in attendance patterns at the two schools, but
that students do value hard work and success beyond school and are cognizant of the
relationship between Renaissance and those values.
This study will show that as a recognition system. Renaissance is a
communication tool which embodies and transmits cultural values. I uncover and
decode values and analyze how they are communicated and what meanings they have
inside the school and throughout the community. I identify discrepancies between the
values held by the school adult culture and student sub-cultures. I discuss how values
are prescribed for one group by another, and I uncover what cultural norms and values
Renaissance reinforces or proposes and how those norms and values are symbolically
Although the Renaissance program's effectiveness in achieving its stated goals
may be an issue of discussion, it is not the focus of the study. Rather. I seek to
discover discrepancies between values actually held by the various sub-cultures and
those advanced through Renaissance. I distinguish differences in the nature of
Renaissance recognition activities from other, more traditional means of identifying
success in the school, and I discuss the relationships among institutional goal setting,
planning, and the communication of those goals and strategic plans. Tracing the
decision-making process involved in recognition activities is relevant in determining
who is setting goals and who is deciding which behaviors to recognize. I discuss the
level of consensus existing among the school's sub-cultures regarding who and what to
recognize, and what attempts to articulate specific criteria for recognition look like.
This area of research the communication of values through institutional
programs and organizational behaviors is more relevant for American education now
than ever before. The transmission of values has become a politically charged theme in
education, with factions on both ends of the political spectrum vying for control over
what is taught, how it is taught, and what these choices mean in terms of cultural
advancement. At the root of virtually any debate in education today are fundamental
questions about what the education system values, what communities value, and how
those value systems unite or fracture in the process of teaching the nation's young
(Bauman, 1996; Postman, 1995).
This study's importance is in its attempt to merge economic, social, educational,
and communication theories into a descriptive explanation of natural phenomena by
shedding light on the ways in which a particular school community seeks to establish,
maintain and transmit a set of culturally significant values. Inherent tensions are
identified between the personal, individual good versus the common, societal good
served by our educational institutions. As Allison points out, America has historically
placed "more emphasis on using schools to train a docile work force by stressing
respect for authority, regular attendance, and a high tolerance for boredom than on
mass schooling for intellectual growth" (1995, p. 16). Yet individual, intellectual
growth flourishes, and any attempt to diminish the value Americans place on the
importance of individual performances and accomplishments by suggesting that our
schools instead promote a communal spirit of achievement would be futile. Inherent
contradictions of vast proportions exist within our educational institutions which
become apparent through the study of recognition and reward systems.
The American notion of a "common school," wherein a core set of concepts and
values are transmitted to the young in order to create an effective citizenry, is still
operating and is still suspect. Serving numerous masters, public schools still strive to
identify which forces in the culture will set their agendas and whether they will reflect
the community's values or establish their own:
By 1900, the public schools not only were securely established, but had come
to serve various economic, social, and pedagogical functions. When industry
needed skilled workers, schools initiated manual training courses and vocational
programs. When specific values, beliefs, and behaviors were required for a
smoothly functioning society, the schools were the most accessible and
effective agency to carry out such teachings. If the needs of the community
were in the areas of home care, health, or recreation, the schools were
responsive in developing appropriate programs. Schools, in effect, became
implements for economic growth, social reform, and community harmony (Van
Scotter, Kraft, & Haas, 1979, p. 15).
How are the values of "economic growth, social reform, and community
harmony" communicated through the public schools in general and through a
Renaissance recognition program specifically? Few questions seem more timely and
important, as we sit poised at the turn of the twenty-first century, facing forces that
would privatize and customize American education into something unlike anything it
has been in our country's history to date. Do high schools still function as common
schools, reflecting the values of the community and communicating those values
through recognition rites, rituals, and ceremonies? Or have our schools become
"instruments of selection" as feared by Perkinson, in The Imperfect Panacea (1977. p.
158) and by Spring, in The Sorting Machine (1976)? Evidence exists that schools
reflect the classes found in society, and clearly Renaissance reflects a high degree of
comfort with a stratified student body, whether classified according to wealth, power,
ability, or motivational level. Commonly, public education is viewed as "The Great
Equalizer," through which people from perceived lower-class backgrounds are able to
advance. This view has been effectively challenged, however, by those who point out
that the inequalities among schools serve to perpetuate the status quo and render social
mobility virtually impossible (Kozol, 1991). According to Allison:
American public schools are supposed to meliorate the effects of poverty by. at
the very least, providing the young with equal opportunity for an education
which will help them climb a ladder of vertical mobility. Too often, schools
help reproduce the inequalities in the social order through funding, the formal
curriculum, the "hidden curriculum," and the "lived culture" of students and
teachers (1995, pp. 99-100).
That Renaissance exists in a capitalistic society should surprise no one. The
program operates as a mirror image of the greater economic environment in which it
exists, and it contains recognizable cultural elements which serve to shape and
perpetuate the culture and its values. This study is about those cultural elements -
symbols, artifacts, rituals and ceremonies and how they create and communicate
Delimitations of the Study
This study is limited to the discussion of one specific program in one specific
school over a two year period. Certainly a similarly designed study conducted at a
different site could yield different results. In fact, Renaissance has been intentionally
designed by Jostens to be molded and modified to meet the needs of many different
kinds of schools. There is no "right" way to develop a Renaissance program, and this
study does not attempt to display Renaissance in a static and nonevolving way. As
Clifford (1986) points out:
'Cultures' do not hold still for their portraits. Attempts to make them do so
always involve simplification and exclusion, selection of a temporal focus, the
construction of a particular self-other relationship, and the imposition or
negation of a power relationship (Clifford, 1986, p. 10).
The school studied, however, has many features commonly found in high
schools across America. The suburban city in which it is located is not unusual or
strikingly different from many suburbs in the country, and the Renaissance program
itself has certain central features regardless of the school in which it operates. The
research methods used in this study are commonly practiced and are easily replicable as
well. The questions raised by this study are being raised in a larger national dialogue
about the nature of education, and some of this studys findings have the power to
guide that dialogue in new and meaningful directions.
We must believe the things we teach oiu children.
Woodrow Wilson, 1921
Literature Related to Critical Theory
Critical theory provides a framework for addressing questions about power
relationships and the use of education by one group to control or oppress another
group. Brodkey, in her article, "Writing Critical Ethnographic Narratives," argues that:
[T]here is an a priori assumption that hegemonic practices occur in all
institutions in which power is unequally distributed. So, an ethnographer who
enters the scene on the presumption that the social arrangements in a particular
school or classroom will favor the interests of a dominant group is undeniably
looking for hegemonic practices (1987, p. 68).
Brodkey sees a strong dependency on critical theory by the educational
I am presuming that educational anthropologists, like many other academics, are
interested in grounding their research in a theory of social construction because
they wish not only to describe and analyze social practices, but to interrupt
those social practices they believe oppress certain designated classes inside
educational institutions, namely students, teachers, minorities, and women
(1987, p. 67).
Critical theory is concerned with the experience of individuals within social
organizations, and allows us to consider the possibility that values are imposed
externally on one social class by another, through language, through information, or
through patterns of social interaction (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993. p. 26). As Sirotnik
and Oakes (1986, p. 9) point out, inquiry in the critical vein is not "value-free." but
influenced by the researcher's "emancipatory interests," in the same way that more
traditional modes of inquiry are shaped by "controlling interests." In other words, the
critical researcher accepts the mission of change through inquiry as central to his/her
task, and rejects the restraints of scientific objectivity as unrealistic, unachievable, and
unnecessary in the attainment of his/her research goals. According to Innes de
The notion of critique demands that the knower question all assumptions and be
aware of how formal knowledge reinforces the status quo. The relativity of
facts and methods to values and understandings becomes the foundation for
further thought rather than a dilemma (1986, p. 55).
Contemporary critical theory in the social sciences is heavily indebted to the
works of the German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas. Habermas is "often
anachronistically set among the previous generation of the founders of Frankfurt
School critical theory" (Outhwaite, 1994, p. 152), a group which includes other social
science philosophers like Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and Apel (Sirotnik and Oakes.
1986, p. 9). According to McCarthy (1978), "the idea of a critical social theory takes us
to the center of Habermas's thought" (p. 76). White (1995, p. 98) maintains that
Habermas began to develop his own conception of critical theory in the 1960s while
writing about social science philosophy in On the Logic of Social Sciences (1967) and
Knowledge of Human Interests (19711. Habermas was originally interested in critical
theory as a mode of inquiry, but as his thinking evolved, he saw the need for a well
constructed meta-theory involving the role of the social sciences in the liberation of
In this light, the task of the social scientist is first to understand the ideologically
distorted subjective situation of some individual or group, second to explore the
forces that have caused that situation, and third to show that these forces can be
overcome through awareness of them on the part of the oppressed individual or
group in question. Thus a critical social science theory is verified not by
experimental test or by interpretive plausibility, but rather by action on the part
of its audience who decides that, upon reflection, the theory gave a good
account of the causes of their sufferings and effectively pointed to their relief
(White, 1995, p. 99).
Rather than using the "positivist, political economy view of Marxism," Habermas'
critical theory is based on "a critical, Hegelian philosophical view" (Foley, 1990. p.
171; see also Gouldner, 1980). The focus of Habermass perspective is the grounding
of Marxist thought in common speech acts. According to Foley:
In Habermas's formulation, no progressive proletarian class congealed together
through political struggle against exploitation is needed to rescue human
intersubjectivity. People need only to recognize how the spread of a
"technological rationality" and a vast administrative system in late capitalism is
threatening the inherent intersubjective and rational qualities of our everyday
communication (Foley, 1990, p. 171).
Young (1990, p. 75) discusses the application of Habermas and critical theory
to education through an analysis of the theorist's fundamental method of critique, the
conception of the "ideal speech situation" and its role in the more general sphere of
human behavior he calls "communicative action." Habermas believes that certain
underlying assumptions about everyday speech make communication possible. These
assumptions, held by both speakers and listeners, are universal and transcend
generational and cultural differences. Without these assumptions, chaos would reign.
The assumptions are:
1. that what we are saying or hearing is intelligible, i.e. is coded according
to the rules, etc.;
2. that what we are saying or hearing is true in so far as it implies the
existence of states of affairs, etc.;
3. that the persons speaking speaking are being truthful or sincere;
4. and that things said are normatively appropriate considering the
relationships among the people and between them and the situation they
are in (Young, 1990, pp. 75-76; See also Habermas, 1984 and
In education, critical theorists seek to explain social interaction and interpret the
significance of communicative events in ways that highlight subtle oppression.
Habermas sees the ideal speech situation as a tool useful for thinking about the
asymmetry in concrete speech situations and for reconstruction of those speech
situations in ways which create new insights and understandings. For Habermas, the
analysis of speech situations is central in the process of uncovering hegemony
embedded in language, and through language, culture. In education, the analysis of
ideal speech situations, or critique, serves to reveal social arrangements previously
unacknowledged and undiscovered by other methods of inquiry alone. As Lees states.
"the theme of critique is to produce a conscious theory that illuminates the mask of
oppressive social arrangements in the educational arena" (1995, p 228).
Perhaps the most influential and articulate expression of critical theory in the
study of education can be found in the works of the Brazilian Paulo Freire. In
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Freire discusses the quest for liberation by the
illiterate, the poor, and the colonized. He places education in the context of a Marxist
class struggle and maintains that education must be designed by the persons being
educated, and not by agents of the state who would use education as a means to stifle
the humanity of the powerless and "indoctrinate them and adjust them to a reality which
must remain untouched" (p. 82). Freire is not purely a critical theorist, though other
critical theorists cite him as an influential source for their work (Sirotnik and Oakes.
1986). But Freire's ability to highlight where oppression exists in subtle and no-so-
subtle ways clearly places him in the critical vein. According to Taylor:
Freire is, in reality, an educator within the mainstream of traditional. European
pedagogy, who is fluent in applying Aristotle, modem Existentialism, Marxist
Humanism, and all the liberalism of education nouvelle to a method which has
a long pedigree in many, different social and labour reform movements (1993.
Both Freire and Habermas are useful for framing this study because their
writings synthesize a broad range of ideas and issues around the theme of social
oppression and its relationship to language and communication. Fundamental questions
about the construction and operation of social value systems are central in both men's
work. Freire questions the role of education in the liberation of impoverished people,
and Habermas questions the role of the social sciences in the liberation of the human
mind from the restraints of existing ways of knowing. According to Dryzek.
Habermass epistemological work "can, then, provide a context for the interpretation of
a number of existing social and political theories, and a metatheoretical frame for social
science in general (1995, p. 100).
Literature Related to Social Reproduction Theory
Theorists from education and sociology have snuggled to apply Marxist notions
of class and class reproduction in ways broader than critical theory allows. A body of
work has been produced around the theme of social reproduction which looks at the
role formal education plays in maintaining the status quo within society. As MacLeod
Why is there a strong tendency for working-class children to end up in
working-class jobs? It is this question, a perennial one in the field of sociology,
that social reproduction theorists have addressed during the past twenty years.
Drawing on the works of Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and especially Karl
Marx, reproduction theorists analyze how the class structure is reproduced from
one generation to the next. They attempt to unravel how and why the poor are at
a decided disadvantage in the scramble for good jobs. As reproduction theorists
explore how the social relations of capitalist society are reproduced, they
invariably are led to one site: the school. In the popular mind, school is the great
equalizer: By providing a level playing field where the low and the mighty
compete on an equal basis, schooling renders social inequity superfluous.
Reproduction theorists, in contrast, show that schools actually reinforce social
inequality while pretending to do the opposite. These theorists share a common
interest in uncovering how status or class position are transmitted (MacLeod.
1995, p. 11).
From a traditional Marxist position, Bowles and Gintis (1976) maintain that
schools in America function to provide a steady supply of workers for capitalists
interested in the accumulation of material wealth, not the development of individual
minds. They also argue that schools inculcate students to the value structure of
capitalism and emphasize conformity and a willingness to work within the system and
for the system without challenging its dominant ideology. They propose that an
overhaul of the economic system must accompany true educational reform, because of
the tight linkages between the means and ends of the two systems. They propose that
movement from a capitalistic to a socialistic economic system is both possible and
In short, our approach to U.S. education suggests that movements for
educational reform have faltered through refusing to call into question the basic
structure of property and power in economic life. We are optimistic indeed
concerning the feasibility of achieving a society fostering economic equality and
full personal development. But we understand that the prerequisite is a far-
reaching economic transformation. An educational system can be egalitarian and
liberating only when it prepares youth for fully democratic participation in social
life and an equal claim to die fruits of economic activity. In the United States,
democratic forms in the electoral sphere of political life are paralleled by highly
dictatorial forms in the economic sphere. Thus we believe that the key to reform
is the democratization of economic relationships: social ownership, democratic
and participatory control of the production process by workers, equal sharing of
socially necessary labor by all, and progressive equalization of incomes and
destruction of hierarchical economic relationships. This is, of course, socialism,
conceived as an extension of democracy from the narrowly political to the
economic realm (Bowles and Gintis,1976, p. 14).
Writing more as a critical theorist than a Marxist, Giroux and his associates
(Giroux, 1981; Aronowitz and Giroux, 1990; and Giroux and McLaren, 1994) attempt
to take social reproduction theory to its next level by exploring issues of individual
resistance to schooling and more generally focusing on authentic human experience
rather than on broader, more generalized notions of class. Giroux writes:
It is not surprising that reproductive theories pay little attention to the way
human actors organize their behavior, in individual or class terms, through their
own set of constituted meanings and discourse. One result has been the refusal
to analyze the ways in which pedagogy within the formal and informal
instructional context is mediated by social practices and forms of discourse
which serve to transmit and reproduce ethnic, sexist, and class-based attributes.
Another problem with reproductive accounts of schooling is that they greatly
exaggerate the impact of dominant symbol systems or ideologies upon those in
In a nutshell, the dialectic of domination and resistance, the notion that
schools are neither the exclusive locus of domination nor of resistance but a
combination of both, is lost in the reproductive position. One result is that
human experience is simply reduced to a passive reflex of the ideological
imperatives of the logic of capital and institutions. However, schools are more
than merely ideological reflections of the dominant interests of the wider
society. They are also relatively autonomous institutions that have a particular
relationship to the wider society, one which is marked not only by domination
and docility, but also by contestation and resistance. Put another way. schools
are social sites whose particularity is characterized by an ongoing struggle
between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces (Giroux, 1981, p. 15).
Giroux reaches through abstract theory and its tendency to reduce social activity
to dialectics and instead grounds his critiques in actual practices and policies found in
schools. He helps bring theory back to practice and displays a willingness to think in
fluid and dynamic terms rather than in either/or reductionist rhetoric.
Related to social reproduction theory but broader in its implications is the idea
that a "cognitive elite" has arisen in the last century and that intelligence (and by
implication, schooling) is responsible for the widening gap between classes in our
culture. This theory is most articulately advanced in the book The Bell Curve:
Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Hermstein and Murray (1994). In
one sense, this line of thinking is a radical departure from social reproduction theory as
advanced by Giroux and Bowles. While Boles and Giroux maintain that class is
determined by external forces (birth into a particular class, educational forces,
environmental factors, etc.), Hermstein and Murray take their arguments one step
further by pointing out that generations of such social sorting has produced cognitive
differences between social classes. Yet in regard to the meritocratic nature of our
educational and societal structure, Hermstein and Murray identify some of the same
forces at play as do Giroux and Bowles. They write:
The twentieth century dawned on a world segregated into social classes defined
in terms of money, power, and status. The ancient lines of separation based on
hereditary rank were being erased, replaced by a more complicated set of
overlapping lines. Social standing still played a major role, if less often
accompanied by a sword or tiara, but so did out-and-out wealth, educational
credentials, and increasingly, talent.
Our thesis is that the twentieth century has continued the transformation,
so that the twenty-first century will open on a world in which cognitive ability is
the deciding dividing force. The shift is more subtle than the previous one but
more momentous. Social class remains the vehicle of social life, but intelligence
now pulls the train.
While the theories advanced by Hermstein and Murray are controversial and
inflammatory (they maintain, for instance, that certain ethnic groups have lower l.Q.s
than others), they do create a different way of viewing the role schools play in sorting
students based on intelligence, talent, merit, and ability. They discuss in detail the
relationships between intelligence and family, social behavior, unemployment, and
poverty, and they force the reader to consider how internal qualities like intelligence are
as responsible for class distinctions as are external forces like schooling and
Cultural anthropology as a discipline has traditionally been concerned with
issues of values within cultures and provides social scientists in diverse fields with the
vocabulary, methodology, and conceptual orientation to isolate cultural phenomena and
interpret the meanings of human behaviors which are repetitive and typical with in a
identified cultural entity. Anthropology provides an approach for identifying and
interpreting artifacts, symbols, rituals, and shared beliefs which have meaning within a
culture and provides models for the generation of theory and the discovery of cultural
phenomena in a natural environment. Though no single theory can be tied to the
discipline of cultural anthropology, a general and transferable approach to cultural
inquiry has emerged from the field which provides boundaries for the researcher's
orientation. Through ethnography, cultural anthropologists have sought to reconstruct
the characteristics of cultural environments, identifying and interpreting the phenomena
which make a particular culture unique (Marcus & Fischer, 1986, chapt. 2).
Critical theory and cultural anthropology often have been used in unison to
address the cultural conditions of a given institution or organization. Thomas provides
an excellent overview of this process in Doing Critical Ethnography (1993).
Schwartzman, in Ethnography in Organizations (1993) describes how ethnography can
be used by those interested in the field of organizational theory to successfully collect
and interpret data about life in organizations like schools.
Anthropologists have been interested in the connections between culture,
values, and education for decades. Some anthropologists interested in education search
for native culture through schools as microcosms. They theorize that schools embody
many of the characteristics of the culture at large. Henry's Culture Against Man (1963)
is an example of the work in this tradition. Henry describes American culture as the
baby-boom is waning and relates issues of national character with school, teens,
parenting, and economic values. He writes that, "American classrooms, like
educational institutions anywhere, express the values, preoccupations, and fears found
in the culture as a whole" (1963, p. 287). On the topic of schooling and motivation, he
writes, "though I deplore the fact that the elementary school pitches motivation at an
intensely competitive level, I see no sense in altering that approach, because children
have to live in a competitive world" (1963, p. 3). Some of Henry's observations about
American education are trenchant and cut to the cultural bone. On the subject of
schooling and creativity, for example, Henry writes:
The function of education has never been to free the mind and spirit of man. but
to bind them; and to the end that the mind and spirit of his children should never
escape Homo sapiens has employed praise, ridicule, admonition, accusation,
mutilation, and even torture to chain them to the culture pattern. Throughout
most of his historic course Homo sapiens has wanted from his children
acquiescence, not originality (1963, p. 286).
In Jules Henry on Education (1972) Henry presents the interesting thesis that
motivation, as it has been been conceptualized in the psychological literature, is defined
by middle class and elite class values:
In reading about human motivation, one is struck by the fact that what the
motivation researchers have in mind, the hidden parameters of their thinking,
are largely those attractive to researchers. For example, in a recent book the
following are stated to be 'secondary, learned, social, or psychological
motives....To strive for social acceptance or status, to work to write a
symphony or climb a mountain, to try to keep the schools segregated or to
integrate them, to want to complete college or understand human
behavior...saving for a trip abroad, working to get ahead, buying a new car or
reading a book, heroism, martyrdom, artistic production or religious asceticism'
(Berelson and Steiner, 1964, pp. 240-241). While strictly speaking these are a
mixture of ends and means rather than motives, the selection of examples
illustrates the problem, viz., that the parameters of research in motivation are
largely middle-class and elite; and from this point of view motivation is a unique
psychological quirk characteristic of the middle and elite classes only. In such a
context, then, most lower-class children could not be said to have any
motivation (Henry, 1972, p. 43).
While Henry deals with a broad range of social issues in his writings about
education, other anthropologists focus more specifically on issues of gender, race and
class within the schooling environment, and seek to disclose how discrimination is
perpetuated by the school system or how women and minorities respond differently to
schooling because of cultural forces. Landes' Culture in American Education (1965) is
an example of research in this vein, as is Streitmatters Toward Gender Equity in the
Classroom (1994), and Race. Class, and Education (Meier, Stewart, and England,
1989). Meier, Stewart, and England write that, "racial biases in special education,
ability grouping, curriculum tracking, and discipline have replaced segregation as the
single greatest obstacle to equal educational opportunities" (1989, p. 4). The analysis
by anthropologists of cultural factors which limit opportunities for the disadvantaged
and women has been responsible for a good deal of educational reform in the last three
decades and continues to influence changes in educational policy and practice.
Other anthropologists who deal with educational issues have carved out a third
domain, which is the study of subcultures within schools and the communities they
serve. Many of these authors are deeply indebted to social reproduction theorists for
their theoretical frameworks, but their research styles are clearly anthropological, and
the major writings they have produced are undoubtedly ethnographies, not theoretical
treatises. Willis Learning to Labor (1977), Eckert's Jocks and Burnouts (1989).
Foley's Learning Capitalist Culture (1990), and MacLeod's Ain't No Makin' It (1995)
are several influential works in this style of educational/cultural expose.
Willis' work identifies how schools prepare students for the working world by
conveying tacit values and by modeling structural relationships between workers and
managers. According to Foley (1990), "without a doubt, Willis's was the first detailed.
ethnographic portrayal of exactly how communicative behavior in school reproduced
the class relations of the larger society" (p. 163). Willis concludes that schools restrict
social mobility rather than enhance it, but also that teachers are not necessarily to blame.
but rather, are themselves cogs in the worker wheel:
It is of the utmost importance to appreciate that the exchange relationship in the
educational paradigm is not primarily in terms of its own logic a relationship
between social classes or in any sense at all a self-conscious attempt on the part
of teachers to dominate or suppress either working class individuals or working
class culture as such. The teachers... are dedicated, honest and forthright and
by their own lights doing an exacting job with patience and humility. Certainly
it would be quite wrong to attribute to them any kind of sinister motive such as
miseducating or oppressing working class kids (1977, p. 67).
Willis' book is about several boys who attend a boys' school in a small, working class
English community. Willis does an especially good job of discussing class cultures a
lifestyles created by environmental conditions, including but not limited to schools.
Foley's work is on a similar theme, but deals with cultural clashes between
"Mexicanos" and "Anglos" in a small south Texas town. In the Foreword to Foleys
book, Willis says Foley's strength is in his ability to create a "synthesis of
anthropology, cultural studies, and socialist theory to produce the over-arching concept
of expressive cultural practices" (Foley, 1990, p. vii). Eckerts book is about the
creation of social identity in a Detroit-area school. She discusses how years of subtle
and not-so-subtle stereotyping and categorizing by peers and school officials creates
social classifications for students:
At no stage can one realistically talk about children's beliefs or adolescents'
choice without understanding the dynamics of schooling and the relation
between schooling and children's and adolescents' social groups. Although
school ideology would have all students be Jocks, it plays a clear role in
creating Burnouts (1989, p. 7).
The three styles of anthropological work dealing with education discussed here
are somewhat arbitrary classifications, as each work deals with issues in each domain.
Kimball (1974) groups the areas of educational inquiry by anthropologists somewhat
There are four major areas of anthropological theory that have direct relevance
for education. These are the regularities of behavior and belief that we call
culture; the transmission of culture and learning processes; the ways in which
individuals group themselves for the accomplishment of communal purposes,
from which comes organization theory; and the processes by which
transformations occur in human behavior and groupings that can be explained
by a theory of change (p. i).
Regardless of how these styles of educational ethnographies are grouped, the
important point is that anthropologists have found education to be a revealing lens into
culture, and the diversity of approaches to inquiry and the wealth of findings acquired
make the continuance of this kind of research relevant and meaningful.
Perhaps the most important figure in educational anthropology is George
Spindler of Stanford University. Spindler edited Education and Anthropology (1955).
which he revised as Education and Culture: Anthropological Approaches (1963), and
again revised as Education and Cultural Process; Toward an Anthropology of
Education (1974). These works, along with Doing the Ethnography of Schooling:
Educational Anthropology in Action (1982) are some of the most referenced books in
the field. Spindler co-authored with his wife, Louise Spindler, The American Cultural
Dialogue and Its Transmission (1990), which is about the expression through speech,
behavior, and media of values and the conflicts that give rise to in American culture.
In this text, the Spindlers "develop a coherent model... the central dynamics of the
American cultural dialogue, put it in some historical perspective and selectively describe
some aspects of its transmission" (p. 71). Spindler's work, individually and with his
wife, grounds much of the writing in educational anthropology because it draws
together a broad range of schooling issues and frames them within the perimeters of
Literature Related to Organizational Theory and Communication
Certainly the body of research called organizational theory should be drawn
upon in any investigation into the culture of an organization and the communication of
values within that organization and its programs. Like cultural anthropology,
organizational theory is not a theory per se, but an orientation that guides inquiry within
a framework of constructs. Organizational theorists are concerned with universal and
predictable patterns of human behavior within institutions. They seek to generate laws
describing how people behave in organizations and uncover patterns of social
interaction which are common in a wide variety of environments. For instance, many of
the processes involved in strategic planning have been identified by organizational
theorists as predictable and universal. Strategic planning models have been created
which seek to describe how successful institutions plan, and the models are presumably
transferable to other institutions because they are based on fundamental laws about how
people behave in organizations. (See Shafritz & Ott, 1992; Bolman & Deal. 1991).
Organizations, however, are complex and multi-faceted, and there are severe limitations
on the ability of social scientists or anthropologists to define laws which adequately
describe social interaction, communication, and values reinforcement within
organizations. The logic of programs within organizations is seldom simple. Typically
the goals of programs are ambiguous and people within institutions impose their own
values on programs at various stages throughout the implementation process.
Under the umbrella term "organizational theory" resides a more specific field of
study, "organizational communication," which seeks to describe how people
communicate within human structures like businesses, schools, and other institutions
found in the world of work (Stohl, 1995, p. xi). Manning (1992) defines
organizational communication in the following way;
I prefer to think initially of organizational communication as having two
aspects. The first is the processing of information in message form into,
through, and out of organizations. However, organizational communication
also entails the analysis of all the nonmessage and noninformational matters and
the performing of communication that shapes such processing of
communicational transactions and gives them organizationally valid meaning.
Thus, organizational research should explicate the social climate, social context.
and formal structure within which organizational communication as
performance takes place (p. 9).
The idea that organizations can be understood through the study of their
communication patterns is key to the field of organizational communication and to this
research project. As Bantz (1993) maintains:
Organizations are symbolic realities constructed by humans in communication.
Those symbolic realities are organizational communication cultures.
Organizations are creations, and both organizational members and observers
need to comprehend them as such. To understand organizations, I propose that
one analyzes organizational communicauon messages and then infers
organizational communication culture by identifying the organizational patterns
of meanings and expectations (p. ix).
From the field of mass communication studies, newly developed perspectives
about the linkages between communication and culture can help to uncover the
mysteries of values in organizations, institutions, and their programs, and help shed
light on how values are communicated within societal structures. Carey, in his book
Communication as Culture (1989). describes two alternate conceptions of
communication, the "transmission view" and the "ritual view" (p. 14). He says the
transmission view is based on a commercial perspective of communication, treating
information as a bartered commodity. He argues that this perspective of communication
has its roots in religion and transportation, and is the predominant view of
communication in the Western World and in industrialized society world-wide. When
people speak in terms of "sending" and "receiving" information, they are evoking the
transmission view of communication.
The ritual view of communication, on the other hand, sees the communication
process in more symbolic terms. Communication is the mortar that holds society
together, a series of threads bonding the cultural tapestry:
In a ritual definition, communication is linked to terms such as "sharing,"
"participation," "association," "fellowship," and "the possession of a common
faith." This definition exploits the ancient identity and common roots of the
terms "commonness," "communication," "community," and
"communication." A ritual view of communication is directed not toward the
extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time;
not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs
(Carey, 1989. p. 18).
Carey's cultural theory of communication helps expose how communication
maintains certain cultural norms and expectations, how it perpetuates certain systemic
values and rewards certain societal behaviors. Through Carey's work and the efforts of
organizational communication theorists like Manning and Bantz. alternative
perspectives upon the role of communication in organizational cultures are emerging.
As Johnson (1993) succinctly states, "Communication relates to culture in three ways:
it creates it, it maintains it, and it changes it" (p. 75). Combined with the assumption
from critical theory that power is unequally distributed in all natural human
environments and that analysis of speech can reveal these unequal relationships, and
drawing upon the patterns of organizational behavior uncovered by organizational
theorists, we can begin to formulate questions about how values are communicated
through institutional programs and organizational behaviors. Cultural anthropology will
provide us with the language and methods of inquiry with which to formulate these
questions and seek answers.
Literature Related to Motivation. Recognition, and Assessment
In an educational context, the terms motivation, recognition, and assessment
have distinct and separate meanings. It would not be difficult to point out how they are
different, how they are researched separately, and why enormous bodies of research
have developed around each term. My aim here is not to analyze each term in search of
its unique qualities, but to find the point of synthesis where the three concepts merge
and behave as one force driving educational decisions and scholastic behaviors as they
relate to my research question. For instance, that strategies designed to evaluate student
performance are also intended to motivate and to recognize achievement, and those
attempts to recognize students may also be designed to motivate them. The goals of
motivation, recognition, and evaluation are often intertwined and confused, raising
serious ethical considerations about how educational environments are constructed.
The presence of motivation in a student is usually cited by educators as a key
component in academic success (Stipek, 1993, p. 10). While most would agree that
motivation is central to achievement, much disagreement centers around the sources of
motivation, and whether personal or environmental forces cause students to be
motivated or to lack motivation. Behaviorists (Skinner, 1974), or those espousing
"reinforcement theory," feel that environmental factors cause behaviors to occur, not
personal or individual characteristics:
A strict reinforcement theorist... assumes that a person's behavior at any
given time is fully determined by his or her reinforcement history and the
contingencies in the present environment. Thoughts and feelings are irrelevant.
According to the theory, we should look only at the environment to understand
the behavior, and we should ignore inner thought and emotional processes,
such as self-perceptions of competence, expectations for success, fear, or
Strict reinforcement theorists, therefore, would not consider motivation
as a characteristic of the individual. Individuals would be considered
"motivated" only inasmuch as they exhibit behaviors that are believed or known
to enhance learning, like paying attention or working on assignments. Faced
with a child who is not working in school, a reinforcement theorists asks.
"What's wrong with the environment?" rather than "Whats wrong with the
child? The only way to change a student's behavior is to change the reward
contingencies (consequences to behavior) in the classroom. (Stipek, 1993. p.
The most central complaint about reinforcement theory is that it does not
adequately explain the entire range of human behaviors. Critics of reinforcement theory
also charge that its techniques are prone to abuse. "Social cognitive theory" (Bandura.
1986) evolved largely as a reaction against reinforcement theory, and attempts to
"portray individuals as actively processing events and developing expectations
regarding reinforcement, rather than as automatically behaving according to previous
reinforcement contingencies" (Stipek, 1993, pp. 43-44). Social cognitive theory
assumes that individuals are largely in control of their environments, rather than the
other way around. Humans are both rational and emotional beings, and they behave in
complex ways which often defy simple operant conditioning principles:
Social cognitive theorists assume that personal experience with reinforcement
and punishment are not required for behaviors to be manifested. This
assumption solves the problem strict reinforcement theorists have in explaining
new behavior. According to operant conditioning theory, individuals' behavior
is determined by their own reinforcement history. Children attend to a teacher
and complete assignments because they have been reinforced for this
behavior, or because they have been punished for alternative behaviors, in the
past. Operant conditioning theorists rely on the principle of shaping to explain
how children learn new behaviors behaviors that have not been reinforced.
But this explanation is not entirely satisfactory because it would be too
cumbersome for every new behavior to be shaped by reinforcing successive
approximations (Stipek, 1993, p. 44).
Social cognitive theorists argue that students are able to project consequences
into hypothetical conditions and are able to rationally and emotionally make decisions
on factors not limited solely to the negadve or positive effects of their behaviors.
A third general perspective on the forces that drive achievement is "intrinsic motivation
theory," (Piaget, 1952; White, 1959) whose advocates claim:
Human beings are naturally disposed to develop skills and engage in learning-
related activities; external reinforcement is not necessary because learning is
inherently reinforcing; individuals learn best when they see themselves as
engaging in learning behavior for their own intrinsic reasons because they
want to rather than because they have to. Working on tasks for intrinsic
reasons is more enjoyable, and results in more learning, than working on tasks
for extrinsic reasons such as pleasing a person in authority, obtaining a reward,
or escaping punishment (Stipek, 1993, pp. 59-60).
Intrinsic motivation theory assumes that humans are naturally curious, that they innately
strive to become competent, and that they need to feel autonomous in their choice of
activities (Stipek. 1993, pp. 59-60).
While these three psychological theories don't begin to exhaust all possible
perspectives about human motivation, they do provide a broad overview of the ways
researchers on student motivation ground their studies. Many off-shoots of each of
these theories exists as well, and heated arguments have raged in the psychological
community for decades over human motivation in general, and over student motivation
more specifically. I don't intend to end these debates here, only to point out that
educators make decisions daily based on their beliefs about human motivation, and the
three theories outlined above play prominently in the decision making process.
According to several school reform authors, American education is particularly
steeped in the logic of behaviorist theory. Glasser, in The Quality School: Managing
Students Without Coercion (19901. says, "coercive teachers are the rule, not the
exception, in our schools... We pressure students to learn what they do not want to
learn, and then punish them with low grades when they do not learn it (p. 8). Kohn.
author of Punished bv Rewards (1993) says that the American scientific sensibility
contributes directly to the dominance of behaviorist thought in the workplace and in
It is no accident that behaviorism is this country's major contribution to the field
of psychology, or that the only philosophical movement native to the United
States is pragmatism. We are a nation that prefers acting to thinking, and
practice to theory; we are suspicious of intellectuals, worshipful of technology,
and fixated on the bottom line. We define ourselves by numbers take-home
pay and cholesterol counts, percentiles (how much does your baby weigh?)
and standardized test scores (how much does your child know?). By contrast,
we are uneasy with intangibles and unscientific abstractions such as a sense of
well-being or an intrinsic motivation to learn (pp. 9-10).
Kohn believes that reward and punishment systems are effective at changing
behaviors, but the costs of these tactics are high. He insists that such manipulative
strategies only work for the short term, tend to breed resentment, and do not ultimately
teach young people to think for themselves. Rather, students become conditioned to
wait for direction from the persons controlling their behavior, and they never learn to
consider the rightness or wrongness of their actions, only whether they will go
rewarded or punished. When the reinforcement is removed, the behavior ceases (1993.
chaps. 4-8). Kohn (1993) argues that behaviorist thought is the Zeitgeist of American
education, controlling a wide range of educational practices and policies:
To induce students to learn, we present stickers, stars, certificates, awards.
trophies, membership in elite societies, and above all, grades. If the grades are
good enough, some parents then hand out bicycles or cars or cash, thereby
offering what are, in effect, rewards for rewards. Educators are remarkably
imaginative in inventing new, improved versions of the same basic idea (p. 11).
In other writings, Kohn (1991) points out that this implicit understanding of
how students behave drives a variety of academic structures so subtle yet so pervasive
that we seldom even stop to consider their relevance:
Much of what takes place in a classroom, including that which we have come to
take for granted, emerges from a set of assumptions about the nature of human
nature. Not only how children are disciplined, but the very fact that influencing
their actions is viewed as "discipline" in the first place: not merely how we
grade students, but the fact that we grade them at all; not simply how teachers
and students interact, but the fact that interaction between students is rarely seen
as integral to the process of learning all of these facts ultimately rest on an
implicit theory of what human beings are like (p. 498).
However, in spite of the dominance of behavioristic thought :n American
education, many researchers are identifying other forces more responsible for causing
academic achievement than punishments and rewards. Research on motivation is
merging with research on evaluation, and new understandings of the relationships
between what causes students to learn and how we assess that learning are emerging.
Important instructional techniques follow as well, and although changes in the study of
motivation theory have been slow to penetrate the classroom, increasingly new
perspectives have begun to inform practice. As Anderman and Maehr (1994) succinctly
Essentially a new research paradigm emerged that transformed the study of
motivation: The study of needs and drives became as it is today the study of
perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs. The importance of this shift in focus is
difficult to overestimate in the study of motivation generally (p. 290).
In a recent study, Slavin (1994) found that, "motivation, curiosity, and insight
are certain to be much greater when children need information or skills to solve
problems that have meaning to them" (p. 11). This relationship between the motivation
to learn and the relevancy of what is learned has been documented in numerous other
studies (Thorkildsen, 1994; see also Ryan, Connell, and Deci, 1985.)
Fifteen years ago, few observers of the budding school reform movement
would have predicted that student assessment would emerge as the focal point of so
much research and discussion. Yet student assessment, with all its linkages to
standards and outcomes and other vehicles of instructional and political accountability,
is the hottest issue in education today. Much of the newest research on assessment
focuses on "alternative assessments," a nebulous phrase implying strategies beyond
letter grades and standardized tests. Included in alternative assessment are strategies like
portfolios, performance assessments, exhibitions, and other authentic tasks. New goals
for assessing students seem to be driving new methods of assessment, goals linked
more closely with the synthesis of knowledge and the integration of thinking skills.
According to Kohn (1993), grades have historically been rationalized as satisfying one
or more of the following purposes:
1. They made students perform better for fear of receiving a bad grade or
in the hope of getting a good one.
2. They sort students on the basis of their performance, which is useful for
college admission and job placement.
3. They provide feedback to students about how good a job they are doing
and where they need improvement (p. 201).
Kohn adds that, "The significance of these effects is underscored by the fact
that, in practice, grades are routinely used not to merely evaluate but also to motivate"
(1993, p. 201).
The promise of alternative assessment is that students will have more control
over and participation in their evaluations, and that the evaluations will more directly
reflect what they have learned. Perhaps the most promising claim asserted by
proponents of alternative assessment is that assessment can be closely coupled with
learning, so that students are required to learn in the act of assessment because higher
order thinking skills are required by design.
Additionally, alternative assessments are being touted as reform tools that allow
school practioners to assess the effectiveness of the institutions in which they work:
There is no question that schools owe their constituencies (legislatures,
families, and the businesses who will hire their students) honest accounts of
what they have and have not achieved. Even so, assessment has been driven
too exclusively by concerns for measuring and reporting achievement data for
outside audiences. Often forgotten is the equally important work of internal
accountability that is, encouraging students, teachers, and families to think
hard about what is worth knowing and then make sure they know it (Wolf.
1992, p. 10).
Shifting the focus from communicating with external audiences toward internal
ones may help downplay the competitive and often destructive results of assessment by
focusing less on accountability and more on evaluation for growth. According to
Marzano (1993), developer of the influential "Dimensions of Learning Model":
At least three factors have contributed to the demands for assessment reform:
the changing nature of educational goals; the relationship between assessment
and teaching and learning; and the limitations of the current methods of
recording performance and reporting credit (p. 9).
But while a good deal of excitement about alternative assessment has been
generated in the last several years, real and substantive change has been slow to come.
Some researchers report that using alternative assessments will be several times more
expensive than traditional assessment methods have been (O'Neil, 1992, pp. 17-18).
Performance assessments take additional time, while portfolios require space for
storage. Confusion reigns when the results of different assessments for the same child
don't yield similar data. Other road blocks exist as well. Parents, colleges, and
employers have been slow to welcome evaluation methods with which they aren't
In short, traditional grades and standardized testing, in spite of the current
enthusiasm about alternative assessment, are not likely to go away any time soon.
Grade point averages and standardized test scores are still key determinants in
admissions to college, scholarship disbursement, and the recognition of school
valedictorians, as well as for selection to National Honor Society and other similar
merit-based organizations. Schools use grades to communicate with internal and
external audiences, to identify successes and failures, and to recognize achievement.
Competition for limited opportunities to be recognized permeates American schools.
Students are taught that success is measured in relation to others, and that doing well in
school means beating out the competition. Bell grading curves are still used by some
teachers, and norm-referenced standardized tests depend on reporting scores which
derive meaning only through comparing the scores of students tested.
Kohn (1986) presents evidence based on the synthesis of a number of studies
that competition detracts from achievement, in spite of the generally accepted American
belief to the contrary. "Superior performance," Kohn says, "not only does not require
competition; it usually seems to require its absence" (p. 47). Recognition is the public
acknowledgment of success in some venue. Though all recognition does not
necessarily dictate success in a competitive environment, recognition in schools
generally does. In spite of efforts to make learning activities more collaborative.
competition, not cooperation, is still the norm in American education, particularly at the
secondary level (Nicholls, 1989, p. 161). Many researchers conclude that schools do a
good job of modeling the competitive mind set:
It is fair to speculate that when schools promote ego involvement and distribute
privileges on the basis of ability and attainment, they may have yet another
effect one that has received much less attention from psychologists. They may
serve as models of a competitive, meritocratic society where autonomy,
influence, and other rewards reflect individual differences in accomplishment.
They may promote the notion that competition is, if not the only way people can
live, at least the best way. (Nicholls, 1989. p. 160).
Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.
Abraham Lincoln, 1838
The questions raised by this study were open-ended and exploratory in nature.
They were not closely linked to a hypothesis in need of testing, nor were they tightly
controlled by operational definitions. I had questions about the communication of
values through institutional programs and behaviors, not predictions to be tested about
those values. A survey might have helped uncover what people in a Renaissance school
thought and felt at a given point in time, but it would have helped little in showing how
they behave over an extended period. An experiment could not be designed to uncover
how values were communicated in a natural environment, because context defines
culture, and culture can't be studied in a vacuum removed from context.
The research method best suited for studying a single culture in depth is the
ethnography (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, pp. 2-6). Designed originally by
anthropologists to make alien cultures familiar through extensive description, the
ethnography has evolved into a contemporary tool used by researchers in a wide variety
of fields to analyze cultures both strange and familiar. When combined with a rigorous
and systematic process for data collection, the ethnography becomes a powerful tool for
studying cultures at both the macro and micro levels.
An ethnography is both a product and a process, a field technique of data
collection and a writing style for the presentation of findings. Ethnography is both the
"how" and the "what" of anthropological research on culture. Based on data collected
primarily through interviews, observations, questionnaires, document analysis, and
artifact analysis, ethnography is well-suited for the exploration of cultures found in
natural contexts. What follows is an ethnography analyzing the culture of a Renaissance
school intended to answer my research questions and to shed light on the relationships
between recognition, values, and communication within that culture.
During the two years this research was conducted, I worked as an assistant
principal at another high school in the same district as the school under study, and I
lived only five miles from the site in the same suburban city. I secured permission to
conduct the study by discussing the project's aims and methods with the school's
principal, with the teachers responsible for directly implementing the program, and with
the school's department chairpersons. All parties agreed to allow me to meet with any
students or teachers who wished to participate, to attend meetings, assemblies, and
other activities, and to spend time in the school during the day.
I collected data with four distinctly different methods:
1. I interviewed teachers, counselors, administrators, students, and
business participants involved directly with the program;
2. I observed recognition ceremonies, customs, activities, and programs;
3. I administered questionnaires to teachers and students; and
4. I collected artifacts and documents related to the program for analysis.
In an effort to "triangulate" for reliability, I used elements of three different
research methodologies. I chose not to follow the "recipe" of any researcher
exclusively, but rather, to customize the styles and methods of various ethnographic
methodologists to best suit my strengths, my topic, and my specific research questions.
1. For the collection and codification of data, I borrowed heavily from the
the procedures and techniques of "grounded theory," as developed by
Strauss (1987) and with Glaser (1967);
2. For analysis in the form of ethnographic writing, I drew from Eisner's
(1991) idea of "connoisseurship"; and
3. Also for analysis in the form of ethnographic writing, I drew from Van
Maanen's (1988) notions of "impressionist tales."
Before outlining the specifics of my research methodology, I have provided a
brief discussion of the three techniques which influenced my approach.
Strauss' method of qualitative data analysis is one of the most widely used in
the social sciences today. The procedure allows for the generation of theory developed
systematically from data collected in the field from interviews, observations, and
document analyses. All ethnographic analysis is a search for patterns in data; grounded
theory provides for a systematic approach to that analysis as well as for the ongoing
generation of theory based on that data. Sometimes referred to by Glasser as the
"constant comparative method," grounded theory involves building new questions and
hypotheses upon previously collected data, and comparing old data, questions, and
hypotheses with newly emerging ones. Analysis of data is not saved until after the
collection stage, but instead parallels and drives the collection process. Theories are
built and tested throughout data collection and analysis, and are thus grounded in the
data themselves. Using this process, Strauss says the researcher is saddled with three
very important responsibilities:
1. genuinely checking or qualifying the original data;
2. interacting deeply with his or her own data; and
3. developing new theory on the basis of a true transaction between the
previous and newly evolving theory (1987, p. 14).
Both ethnography and grounded theory involve accurate and detailed
description of the environment under study and require the researcher to become
immersed in that environment for a prolonged period of time. Validity is based on the
density of the description and the vigor with which the description is analyzed.
The methodological thrust of the grounded theory approach to qualitative data
is toward the development of theory, without any particular commitment to
specific kinds of data, lines of research, or theoretical interests. So, it is not
really a specific method or technique. Rather, it is a style of doing qualitative
analysis that includes a number of distinct features, such as theoretical
sampling, and certain methodological guidelines, such as the making of
constant comparisons and the use of a coding paradigm, to ensure conceptual
development and density (1987, p. S).
Strauss discusses in detailed chapters the processes of "coding" and "memoing"
in Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists (1987). After an initial set of data has been
collected, the researcher begins analysis by selecting domains in the data line by line.
While linking those domains together conceptually, the researcher begins to develop
hypotheses about the data, which are documented in "memos to yourself." These
memos include ideas about emergent theories. They serve as propositions to generate
new hypotheses and they drive the selection of the next data set to be collected. This
process is repeated over and over again as data are collected and theories are generated.
From the beginning, the researcher is busy comparing categories, theories, data and
ideas in the memo format. In this way, data analysis informs data collection behavior.
In respect to coding, the constant comparative method involves three essential
stages, "open coding," "axial coding," and "selective coding" (Strauss and Corbin,
1990). Open coding involves application of the following terms:
Conceptual labels placed on discrete happenings, events,
and other instances of phenomena.
A classification of concepts. This classification is
discovered when concepts are compared one against
another and appear to pertain to a similar phenomenon.
Thus the concepts are grouped together under a higher
order, more abstract concept called a category.
The process of analyzing data.
The product of coding. These are one type of memo.
The process of breaking down, examining, comparing,
conceptualizing, and categorizing data.
Attributes or characteristics pertaining to a category.
Location of properties along a continuum.
The process of breaking a property down into
dimensions (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 61).
Axial coding involves application of the following terms:
Axial Coding: A set of procedures whereby data are put back together in new ways after open coding, by asking connections between categories. This is done by utilizing a coding paradigm involving conditions, context, action/interactional strategies and consequences.
Casual Conditions: Events, incidents, happenings that lead to the occurrence or development of a phenomenon.
Phenomenon: The central idea, event, happening, incident about which a set of actions or interactions are directed at managing, handling, or to which the set of actions is related.
Context: The specific set of properties that pertain to a phenomenon; that is, the locations of events or incidents pertaining to a phenomenon along a dimensional range. Context represents the particular set of conditions within
which the action/interacdonal strategies are taken.
Intervening Condition: The structural conditions bearing on action/interactional
strategies that pertain to a phenomenon. They facilitate
Action/Interaction: or constrain the strategic > within a specific set Strategies devised to manage, handle, carry out respond to a phenomenon under a set of perceived conditions.
Consequences: Outcomes or results of action or interaction (Strauss and
Corbin, 1990, p. 96-97).
Selective coding involves application of the following terms:
Story: A descriptive narrative about the central phenomenon of
Story Line: the study. The conceptualization of the story. This is the core category.
Selective Coding: The process of selecting the core category, systematically relating it to other categories, validating those relationships, and filling in categories that need further refinement and development
Core Category: The central phenomenon around which all the other categories are integrated (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 166).
Connoisseurship and Educational Criticism
Eisner bases his notions of connoisseurship and educational criticism on the
belief that there are many valid ways to create human understanding. Rather than
drawing upon the traditions of science for methods of inquiry, he has borrowed from
the arts and humanities for the educational research methods he advocates. He writes
that connoisseurs are persons skilled at identifying and appreciating the varied qualities
of food, art, wine, furniture, and the like. He adds that critics are connoisseurs who
give voice to their insights. Using the notions of connoisseur and critic as metaphors,
Eisner has developed a process whereby informed persons can evaluate the qualities of
schools and explain to others what they see and why their perceptions are meaningful.
Works of art like classrooms, schools, and teaching participate in a history
and are part of a tradition. They reflect a genre of practice and an ideology.
Those who know the tradition, understand the history, are familiar with those
genres, and can see what those settings and practices consist of are most likely
to have something useful and informed to say about them. Criticism is an art of
saying useful things about complex and subtle objects and events so that others
less sophisticated, or sophisticated in different ways, can see and understand
what they did not see and understand before (Eisner, 1991, p. 3).
Eisner maintains that detachment and distance are required for maintaining
objectivity in the scientific method but are not necessarily beneficial for acquiring
insight through empirical traditions based in the arts, and can be detrimental when an
observer's goal is a deep understanding of complex and multifaceted social situations
like schools. Nothing in Eisner's work replaces rigor in the evaluation of a social
setting, like a school, or of a phenomenon, tike motivation, but his approach does bring
experience in the natural environment to the forefront of the inquiry process.
Eisner outlines five dimensions of schooling which he says "contribute to the
ecology of schooling" (Eisner, 1991, pp. 73-81) and can be the subject matter of
educational connoisseurship and criticism. These dimensions are:
1. The Intentional Dimension, which embodies the goals of a school or
other school setting like a classroom or playing field;
2. The Structural Dimension, which includes the ways in which schools
are organized for use of time and space, as well as the classification of
students by age;
3. The Cumcular Dimension, which includes the subject matter the school
seeks to impart;
4. Hie Pedagogical Dimension, related to the teaching act; and
5. The Evaluative Dimension, which involves how student progress is
measured, including the use of tests and other formal and informal
assessment tools and techniques.
Just as Eisner organizes educational connoisseurship around five dimensions,
he says that educational critics can organize their perceptions around four additional
dimensions which include:
1. Description, which appeals to the five senses and allows readers to
visualize a place or process;
2. Interpretation, which involves placing events and behaviors in context
and explaining their meaning; and
4. Evaluation, which means passing judgment on the value of the educative
acts observed and assessing their worth.
5. Thematics, which refers to the meaning of recurring images in the
situation under study, and the conveyance of those messages by the
critic (Eisner, 1991, pp. 89-105).
While educational connoisseurship is the art of seeing the qualities of a school,
both good and bad, educational criticism is the art of presenting those perceptions to an
audience and typically preserving them for others to use through the medium of print.
Most qualitative researchers use the processes of connoisseurship and criticism in their
work whether they use those labels or not. Ethnographers attempt to identify their
personal biases and strive to overcome them. Total ignorance about a culture is no more
possible than total objectivity. Ethnographers using educational connoisseurship and
criticism must be true to their readers about their backgrounds and potential conflicts of
interest which might skew their perceptions, but they need not completely disregard the
wealth of their past experiences and their usefulness in illuminating the truth about a
particular educational setting for others.
In the ethnography that follows, I liberally employed what Van Maanen (1988)
refers to as the "impressionist tale." Impressionistic tales, sometime called "vignette
analysis," are reserved for relating unusual or dramatic events observed in fieldwork
which are especially illuminating to the authors thesis:
Impressionist tales present the doing of fieldwork rather than simply the
doer or the done. They reconstruct in dramatic form those periods the author
regards as especially notable and hence reportable. Tales often initiate an
analysis of the nature of cultural understanding and the fieldworker's role as
student. Reflective, meditative themes may develop from the story and spin off
in a number of fieldworker-determined directions. The story itself, the
impressionist's tale, is a representational means of cracking open the culture of
the fieldworkers way of knowing it so that both can be jointly examined.
Impressionist writing tries to keep both subject and object in constant view. The
epistemological aim is then to braid the knower with the known (Van Maanen,
1988, p. 102).
Impressionist tales as analysis depend on the power of the narrative to convey a
sense of presence in the culture and allow the reader to share with the researcher the
sensations which ultimately create meaning. According to Van Maanen:
The intention is not to tell readers what to think of an experience but to show
them the experience from beginning to end and thus draw them immediately into
the story to work out its problems and puzzles as they unfold (Van Maanen,
1988, p. 103).
Data were collected during the winter and spring of 1995, and again during the
winter, spring, and summer of 1996. Data were collected through the following means:
(1) direct observations, (2) student and faculty questionnaires, (3) formal and informal
interviews, and (4) document and artifact analysis.
The observations I conducted were grouped into two categories. The first
category included general observations of the school in operation. I attended athletic
events, a graduation, and an annual awards ceremony. I observed a variety of classes
and meetings, and spent time in the common areas where students and teachers
congregate. I took notes about the kinds of students I encountered, the adults who
worked in the school, and the physical attributes of the building and grounds. In
addition to these general observations, I also attended and observed other events which
were specifically conducted as Renaissance activities, like luncheons, assemblies, and
awards presentations. I observ'd students receiving their Renaissance cards, and I
observed students using their cards in local businesses. I estimate the total number of
hours I spent involved in direct observation to be between SO and 75.1 took notes
regularly while observing. In addition to the observations I conducted at the school, I
also attended a regional Renaissance conference and a state Renaissance conference.
After some initial observations and several interviews with selected individuals,
I administered 300 questionnaires through the classes of two English teachers. (See
Appendix A for student questionnaire.) The classes taught by the two teachers
represented a large cross section of the school's 1,000 students. Both teachers taught
general courses, and all grade levels were represented. The questionnaires were
designed to get students to exhaust their opinions about the Renaissance program
specifically and the idea of recognition in general.
Free writes were regularly assigned activities in these teachers' classes.
Students were required to complete the Renaissance free writes as they would have
been required to complete any other free write assignment, but they were graded only
on their completion of the task, and not on the opinions they expressed or on any other
criteria established by the teacher.
Questionnaires were also administered to the school's SO teachers. (See
Appendix B for faculty questionnaire.) Blank questionnaire forms were placed in
teacher mailboxes, and 10 teachers chose to complete and return them. Follow up
interviews were conducted with six of the teachers who returned questionnaires.
I collected data from students, teachers, administrators, and counselors willing
to be interviewed. Formal interviews (conversations identified as interviews and carried
out for the sole purpose of data collection) were tape recorded, and the tapes were
transcribed. These interviews were conducted with one, two, or three people at a time.
Twenty-five people were formally interviewed.
Informal interviews (causal conversations with students and teachers) were also
conducted. Occasionally I took notes during these interviews, but typically not
Approximately 40 SO informal interviews were conducted.
When interviewing students, I focused on contacting young people of all grade
levels, of both genders, and of varied ethnic heritages. I concentrated on speaking with
students who made good grades as well as students who were not academically
Most of the interviews were conducted after the questionnaires were
administered and analyzed. The interview questions were shaped by the insights
gleaned from the questionnaires. The interviews were based on a series of core
questions. (See Appendix C for core interview questions.) Spradley's categories of
interview questions were used (Spradley, 1979, pp. 55-68). Many of the questions
were short answer, soliciting factual information useful in categorizing responses.
Other questions were conversational in tone and designed to elicit open-ended,
descriptive responses. Not all questions were asked of all informants.
Document and Artifact Analysis
A variety of documents and artifacts were collected. The documents include
school yearbooks, student newspapers, accountability reports, attendance policies,
bulletins, memos, student handbooks, programs to special events, mission statements,
posters, news clippings, and Renaissance promotional materials.
Artifacts included Renaissance cards, hats, and t-shirts. A number of plaques,
photos, and permanent banners were on display in the school, and I photographed all
of these so that I could analyze them at a later date away from the building. I also
viewed a video-taped television news segment about the Renaissance program at the
school under study which aired on a local television station.
During the winter of 1995,1 interviewed the principal, two assistant principals,
one teacher and one counselor at the school under study and observed several important
recognition activities, including an all-school assembly and a recognition luncheon. The
data collected during this initial phase were coded and analyzed to determine some of
the major aims of the Renaissance program and to build a data base of terms and
methods used to communicate the program's goals to the school community. In varying
degrees, the persons interviewed at this stage were all involved in the formation of the
From this iniual research experience, I formulated my research question and
began collecting and analyzing data again in the winter of 1996. Using Strauss' open
coding process, I identified 80 concepts, or basic units of cultural meaning, associated
with the Renaissance program directly and with recognition and reward systems in
general. I accomplished this task by reviewing the data repeatedly to locate terms which
were frequently used by participants in the study.
After identifying the 80 concepts, I analyzed their relationships to one another
and placed them in categories based on their use in context, their individual properties,
and their causal conditions. Using features of Strauss' axial coding process, I worked
to identify the interactions between concepts which brought about phenomena. I
organized concepts repeatedly until they were grouped in ways which best reflected
their associations as understood by participants in the study. I frequently used the
search/find feature on my word-processor to disclose where terms were used in context
in tape transcriptions, memos, and notes, and verified that the contexts in which they
were used were consistent. The following eight categories of concepts were identified:
Objects of Recognition
all-around student award
most influential teacher award
rookie of the year
sponsor of the year
Objects of Rewards
Actions of Recognition
hall of fame
Actions of Rewards
Selective coding is the process of identifying core categories and validating their
relationships with the codes and categories uncovered during open and axial coding.
My further exploration of the relationships between the original 80 codes uncovered in
the open coding stage and of the eight categories developed in the axial coding process
resulted in the emergence of four values communicated through the Renaissance
program at the school under study. These four values constitute the study's core
categories, or as Corbin and Strauss say, "the central phenomenon around which all the
other categories are integrated" (Corbin and Strauss, 1990, p. 116). They are:
These values are analyzed carefully in the ethnography which follows, and the
processes used to communicate them are explored and examined.
Memos are conceptual notes, which "represent the written forms of our abstract
thinidng about data" (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 198). I wrote memos about each
concept, each category, and each core value as a means of documenting their salient
properties and unique features. The process of memoing was useful in my efforts to
bridge the gap between field data and the generation of grounded theory. My personal
memoing style was a kind of brainstorming intended to record meanings as they
evolved from my interactions with the data. The writing of memos took place
concurrently with the coding process.
The final stage of analysis was both a process and a product. Using the
concepts which emerged from open coding, the categories which emerged from axial
coding, the core values which emerged from selective coding, and the memos generated
through the entire process, I analyzed the culture of the school under study by writing a
description of its Renaissance program. Thus, the writing of this descriptive
ethnography is an analytical process, and the ethnography which follows is the product
The business of America is business.
Calvin Coolidge, 1925
RENAISSANCE AT WESTWOOD
Several blocks from Westwood High School is the intersection of Westwood
Parkway and Coleridge Boulevard, the busiest intersection in the state. Both streets are
six lanes wide where they meet. These are interesting times for the two streets and the
businesses developed along them. Thirty years ago, when Westwood Mall opened at
the site, the neighborhood was the hottest retail center in the metropolitan area,
attracting thousands of shoppers daily. Today the future of the region is uncertain. With
shifting population centers and changes in shopping patterns, the area that once
attracted the most successful business tenants struggles to keep retail space occupied.
Though many people travel by, the most affluent have long since moved north or
south, leaving once new and attractive neighborhoods to deteriorate and decay.
Coleridge Boulevard runs directly past the Westwood High School campus.
Twenty-six miles long, Coleridge is the major north/south thoroughfare for suburban
Johnson County, home to 25 percent of the metropolitan area's population. The road
was designed to be expanded into an eight-lane expressway by planners in the 1950s,
but funding never materialized. Though the road now carries enough traffic to warrant
eight lanes, no immediate plans for redesign are in the works. Excessive business
entrances keep traffic moving sluggishly.
Westwood Parkway was constructed as a WPA (Works Progress
Administration) project in the 1930s. Planners envisioned a beautiful, tree-shaded
boulevard designed to move people from the center of the city out to the recreational
regions to the west Local garden clubs sponsored legislation to prohibit billboards
along the road to preserve its beauty and were responsible for planting foliage along the
road's setbacks. Club members would be surprised to see the parkway today. Strip
malls, fast-food restaurants and vacant retail properties line its edges.
The Westwood neighborhood where Westwood Parkway and Coleridge
Boulevard meet is at a critical crossroads. The suburban city it lies in, Greenridge, has
renewal plans in place to revive the area and return it to its position as a retail focal
point, but there are no guarantees the city will be successful in its efforts to breathe
economic life back into the neighborhood. However, there is no economic depression
occurring. In fact, the state's economy couldn't be stronger. People are moving to the
region in large numbers, unemployment is almost nonexistent, and building is
occurring at a record pace. Some neighborhoods are faring better than others, though,
in their attempts to capitalize on the boom. Westwood is a victim of its earlier
successes. New shoppers want new facilities. Older retail areas must spend large
amounts of money to remain contemporary and competitive.
The residential neighborhoods in the Westwood area have experienced a cycle
similar to the commercial ones. Most of the post-WWII era homes are modest ranches
or bi-levels built in tract neighborhoods. Horse properties still dot the area, remnants of
the community's agricultural past. But change is occurring rapidly. Decidedly once a
suburb, the Westwood neighborhood increasingly assumes an urban feel. A more
transient population brings with it the problems of the city drugs, gangs, violence,
crime. Home values have not appreciated at the same brisk rate as in other regions
within the metropolitan area. Most of the community's population works for the
government, in the trades, or in the service industry. Professional households are the
exception rather than the norm.
Westwood High is one of seven public high schools in Greenridge, a large
suburb of a large Western city. Johnson County School District is one of the largest 30
suburban school districts in the country. Once noted for its innovative programs,
problems with growth and reductions in state funding have dismantled many of the
district's flagship projects. What's left is a lean and large school system with 16
traditional high schools, four option high schools, and two charter schools. The district
has over 130 school sites in all, with a student population approaching 90,000. New
schools continue to be built on the district's northern, southern, and western
boundaries, serving affluent populations that flock to the county's most prestigious
bedroom communities. Some of the schools that serve these areas enjoy strong
reputations for academic and athletic achievement Left in the center of the county are
older schools like Westwood High with declining enrollments, inadequate facilities,
and at-risk student populations.
When Westwood High opened its doors in 1959, it was the kind of school
families moved to the suburbs for their children to attend. A large green campus on the
edge of farmland, Westwood promised a strong academic program and a safe, family-
oriented environment The school delivered, sending numerous graduates off to college
or into the work force and providing students with a wide range of extra-curricular
activities. The school itself was designed around several courtyards and had other
modem architectural features which must have appealed to the swelling suburban
population. Still unincorporated and struggling for a sense of identity, Greenridge
looked to its schools as a source of civic pride.The 1960s and 1970s were good for
Westwood High. The school enjoyed a solid reputation for preparing kids
academically, and though Westwood never excelled as an athletic powerhouse, its
teams were usually competitive.
Greenridge incorporated as a city in 1969, and other high schools were built to
accommodate the growth newer, larger high schools surrounded by attractive homes
often occupied by professional families. Never a rich community, the neighborhoods
that fed Westwood High looked increasingly shabby when compared to the more
affluent subdivisions being developed in the area. Westwood High's facilities did not
age well and were not maintained properly. Because of their size, the newer schools
attracted more attention for their athletic successes and developed images of prowess
which were hard for Westwood High to compete against When the state and district
enacted open enrollment policies in the late 1980s, many students living in the
Westwood attendance area opted to attend newer, more prestigious schools in the
county. Numerous teachers and principals worked at Westwood only long enough to
earn the right to be transferred to one of the district's other schools. By 1990, sustained
leadership was absent, enrollment had dropped, and Westwood's reputation plummeted
to an all-time low.
Like the once thriving retail economy in the area that had now fallen into
disrepair, Westwood High needed renewal. It wasn't that the retail community in the
area didn't have goods to sell or services to provide, but its image had deteriorated and
the region could not compete with the more flashy shopping centers to the north and
south. So it was with Westwood High. Students could still get educations at Westwood
and have the opportunity to play on athletic teams, but those who chose to attend there
would have to tolerate the school's tarnished reputation and rundown facilities,
concessions many image-conscious teens and their families were not willing to make
given the availability of alternative options.
Chronology of Renaissance
When Ted Jones was hired as the Westwood principal in the fall of 1991, the
school's vital statistics were in the county cellar. Westwood's dropout rate and mobility
rate were high, test scores and graduation rate were low. Grades were poor and
attendance was bad. Staff morale was a serious concern. A large percentage of the
school's student population qualified for free or reduced lunch according to federal
guidelines, a key indicator for identifying students prone to a variety of problems,
including low academic achievement, substance abuse, and dropping out Westwood
was an at-risk school.
Jones was not a rookie in such environments. He had been principal at a high
school with similar demographics outside Johnson County for seven years, and he was
prepared to take some assertive action to cure the ills plaguing Westwood High. While
searching for ideas for improving his school's image, he heard about Renaissance, a
developing school renewal project sponsored by Jostens, Inc. which emphasized
student and staff recognition and partnerships with local businesses. He decided to
attend a Renaissance conference at the request of his school's Jostens representative,
and he liked the program so much that in the spring of 1992 he encouraged several
veteran faculty members a teacher, a counselor, and two assistant principals to attend
the next Renaissance training conference in the area.
A Renaissance Conference is a special event indeed. Fast-paced and
motivational, Renaissance conferences follow a standard outline designed to bombard
participants with feel-good ideas about kids, teachers, and businesses, and the potential
for mixing these three components in a formula for academic success. Those who
attend Renaissance conferences receive idea books full of quotes and resources for
implementing Renaissance programs in their own schools. Teachers and administrators
from successful Renaissance schools provide vivid testimonials about how Renaissance
changed their schools, and how they, along with the national network of Renaissance
schools, are willing to help fledgling programs get off the ground.
The roots of the Renaissance program can be traced to Conway High School in
Conway, South Carolina, where a charismatic assistant principal named Larry Biddle
showed great acumen for developing school spirit by recognizing students and teachers
for academic success. Biddle's ideas spread and became the genesis for a conference
sponsored by the Southern regional managers of Jostens, the vendor of a wide range of
school-related products, like yearbooks, class rings, graduation, gowns, and
graduation announcements. The focus of the conference was the use of business
principles to improve school achievement, a popular theme of the 1980s school reform
movement The topic of student and faculty recognition based on rewards provided by
local businesses was especially popular at the conference, and Jostens decided to create
a "foundation," housed at their corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, with the mission
of creating a national network of schools involved in a "rebirth" of education focused
on motivating students and teachers with the use of incentive systems.
The mantra for the national Renaissance program is "Performance, Promotion,
Partnerships," referred to by the organization as the "Three Power Principles of
Renaissance." In the program's newsletter, New Heights (1994, p. 8), the Power
Principles are explained:
The Renaissance program is a powerful effort that brings sweeping,
positive changes to the school environment and improves the attitudes of
students and staff alike. Like most successful programs, Renaissance has a
master plan. It is based on three main platforms or power principles that
give the program its life and energy. To be a truly successful Renaissance
school, schools must embrace all three.
Renaissance is an invitation to excellence extended to both students
and teachers. Renaissance schools set academic standards for students and
recognize continuous improvement in academic achievement and behavior.
Staff members, also, are rewarded for their performance and their efforts to
strive for excellence in their profession.
Active promotion is another key to a successful Renaissance Program.
High visibility builds school recognition, student motivation and community
Building awareness and support among students, teachers, school
administrators, parents, business and community organizations is a trademark
of Renaissance success. Working together as partners, these groups can create a
solid base of support for a program.
Jostens, Inc does not directly spend money on Renaissance activities or
programs in individual schools. Jostens sales representatives, who run independent
businesses selling Jostens products, typically pay for people from schools in which
they do business to attend Renaissance conferences. Conferences are held at the state
and regional levels several times per year, and one national conference is held yearly.
Over 6,000 schools nationwide are part of the Renaissance network, with new schools
being added regularly.
In addition to the "Power Principles," Renaissance is rooted in "The Four R's,"
which are Respect, Recognize, Reward, & Reinforce." Promotional materials from
Jostens explait the Four R's in the following way:
'What you respect, recognize, reward and reinforce is what gets accomplished.'
This is a basic management principle we can apply to education. It's a simple
concept 'What you respect, recognize, reward and reinforce is what gets
accomplished.' You need to define the results you want first, then how you will
do it. You'll probably determine that you need to establish a stronger school
culture that promotes academics as well as athletic achievement. You'll probably
want to focus on recognizing and reinforcing kids who improve from D's to
C's or improve their attendance record by 20%.
The recognition, status, and rewards we have in place now are great,
but perhaps we need to be in better balance. Determine what that change of
balance needs to be. Identify what you are 'rewarding' now; and then, identify
what you should be rewarding. Make sure that you continue to reinforce these
specific behaviors. It's an exciting opportunity as we find schools starting to
raise academic excellence and rewarding excellence. Attitudes of kids and
parents and educators alike are changing dramatically. You can see and feel the
difference Renaissance makes.
Jostens distributes a full line of Renaissance products which are marketed in the
Renaissance Catalog. The 1995-96 edition has over 50 kinds of products available,
including apparel, pens and pencils, notebooks, mouse pads, watches, backpacks,
lapel pins, coffee mugs, stuffed toys, and bumper stickers. Also included is a 14
minute video tape titled, "It's Everybody's Business" with an overview of the
Renaissance philosophy for $15.
The "Renaissance Logo" (see appendix D) is on every item in the Renaissance
catalog, and the word "Jostens" is displayed prominently on most objects as well. In
Renaissance promotional literature, "the meaning of the Renaissance Logo" is
In the upper left of the Renaissance Logo is the "courtship of eagles." The
eagle pairs court high in the sky, performing a stirring dance of joyful
partnership. Throughout the ages, the majestic eagle has symbolized freedom,
power, and authority. The United States followed this tradition by incorporating
a bald eagle, also known as the American eagle, in the great seal of 1782. In
the eagle, Americans find a compelling symbol of our nation. In the
Renaissance Education Foundation logo, one eagle represents education and the
other, business. Renaissance is about die eagles of education and the eagles of
business, coming together as one, for the country. The circle signifies the
everlasting effort to improve education; from the different people involved
coming from various sectors, both in and out of the schoolhouse, to the type of
programs implemented, so all students are encouraged to achieve academically.
The foundation chose the name "Renaissance" because the word means
rebirth; a renewal of youthful vigor, freshness, zest for productivity. It also
refers to a period in European history distinguished by a revival of interest in
the past, by an increasing pursuit of learning and by an opening up of thought.
The "RENAISSANCE" logo is spelled using Old English type at the
beginning, and gradually changing to a modem type to symbolize the
Foundation's belief that change in education must come about by keeping
what's good of the old and combining it with the new.
One of the greatest achievements of the historical RENAISSANCE
period was the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. THE
RENAISSANCE EDUCATION FOUNDATION looks to be an integral part of
the rediscovery of American education.
The staff members Ted Jones sent to the Renaissance conference returned to
Westwood full of excitement about implementing the program. They agreed with Jones
that conditions were ripe for such a venture at Westwood, but they had one request.
They felt that for the program to succeed it needed to be driven by the faculty, not the
administration. The group asked the administrators to stay in the background while
planning took place, and provide support and resources only, with little direct
involvement. Understanding the value and power of grass-roots projects, Ted Jones
and his administrative team were happy to oblige them.
With the two administrators who had attended the latest conference taking
background roles, the responsibility of implementing Renaissance at Westwood fell
upon the shoulders of Jan and Ralph. They decided to co-chair the Renaissance
program and made a commitment to each other to serve for the next three years as a
team. They felt their strengths were complimentary, and the amount of work was too
much for any one individual with a family and full-time job.
Jan McCormick was a real spitfire. When she talked, people listened. A
confidence in the tone of her voice indicated she was accustomed to getting her way.
She could outwork any adult in the building and had a reputation of doing so for years.
People knew that when Jan was involved with a project things got done. She led by
example and motivated with sincere rhetoric, weighing her words carefully and always
returning the topic to what was best for kids. Jan had taught for 23 years in Johnson
County and for 16 years at Westwood High.
Ralph Green had been a counselor at Westwood for five years. Prior to
becoming a counselor, he was a gym teacher and a basketball coach at Westwood for
15 years, and before that he taught and coached in another district for nine years,
totaling 29 years in educating and counting. While never winning a state championship,
Ralph's Westwood basketball teams won numerous County titles and played in several
state tournaments. He had cultivated a reputation in the school and community as a
successful leader and educator who cared deeply about kids and followed through on
The first task at hand was planning. Planning to these folks meant establishing
committees, writing vision and philosophy statements, preparing promotional materials
and securing the support of the school community. With the 1991-92 school essentially
over, the newly-formed Renaissance steering committee decided to use the 1992-93
school year for planning, and set a target date for the official program kick-off for the
fall of 1993.
When the teachers returned from summer vacation in August of 1992,
enthusiasm about the Renaissance program was running high. Pat and Ralph asked for
a commitment from the school faculty, and 100 percent said they would support the
program. The following philosophy statement was soon developed:
The goal of the Westwood High School Renaissance program is to provide an
atmosphere that promotes excellent academic performance by all students. The
program's primary aim is to create an attitude that academic achievement is not
only important but is something to be proud of, and will result in immediate and
future rewards. We believe that students who are encouraged, supported, and
rewarded for academic achievement will experience greater success, will
graduate, and will enter the community as positive productive citizens.
By employing basic motivational concepts used in the business world,
Westwood's Renaissance program will provide rewards and incentives to
students who improve their academic performance or maintain levels of
Professional excellence on the part of all certified and classified staff will also
be promoted, supported, and recognized. Each staff member will be
encouraged to understand his/her important role in determining the ultimate
success of every student All students must believe they can excel and all staff
needs to demonstrate support in their effort to work to the highest level of their
OUR STUDENTS REPRESENT OUR NATION'S FUTURE! Using
the established traditions and positive values as a foundation, the
implementation of this new philosophy holds the promise of transforming
Westwood into a true Renaissance school committed to excellence in education.
In addition to the philosophy statement, which would be used to drive program
policy decisions, a vision statement was created, to be used as a distillation of the
philosophy statement on printed materials when needed or as appropriate. The vision
statement was also intended to outline the program's goals and provide some criteria for
measuring its success. The vision statement looked like this:
WHAT IS WESTWOOD'S VISION OF RENAISSANCE?
PROMOTE SCHOOL PRIDE AND IMPROVE THE IMAGE OF
WESTWOOD HIGH SCHOOL
COMMEND ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE AND PERFORMANCE
IMPROVE ATTENDANCE AND CITIZENSHIP
INCREASE SELF-ESTEEM AND CONFIDENCE
ENCOURAGE DEVELOPMENT OF POSITIVE ATTITUDE
STIMULATE PRIDE IN EDUCATION
RECOGNIZE AND REWARD OUTSTANDING STUDENTS,
STAFF, PARENTS, AND BUSINESSES
So that tasks were manageable and delegated to a broad group of people for
completion, the following committees were established, comprised of parents,
students, teachers, administrators, and support staff:
Student Recognition and Incentives Team
Staff Recognition Team
Community Involvement Support Team
Parent Recognition Support Team
As is common when large groups of people begin a project, support in terms of
actual work performed always lags behind support in spirit and words. So it was with
Renaissance at Westwood, and those who were willing to commit large amounts of
time and energy slowly began to emerge, while those with more pressing concerns than
Renaissance faded into the background of the program's implementation.
Judy Turner, a business teacher, and Dorothy Scott, a consumer and family
studies teacher, had extensive connections in the business community and were eager to
be involved in the program. They co-chaired the Community Involved Support Team
and set up groups of school representatives to go to businesses and solicit support for
Westwood's Renaissance program. The teams always included a student, often a
member of the school's Student senate program, which Jan sponsored. Judy and
Dorothy worked with Jan and Ralph to develop the following pitch letter and sponsor
information form which was used whenever a team from the school approached a
prospective business sponsor. The cover letter read:
RENAISSANCE REALLY WORKS...
YOU CAN HELP!
During the spring of 1993, the staff at Westwood High School made a
commitment to join RENAISSANCE. RENAISSANCE is a network of
1500 innovative schools from across the nation who are promoting academic
excellence in a creative manner. RENAISSANCE is a commitment to
excellence and achievement.
This program will be administrated by a dedicated group of parents,
staff, and administrators in a joint effort with the business community. We hope
to positively recognize achievement, academic performance, citizenship, and
good attendance by supplying meaningful incentives to students. Ultimately we
hope to instill an attitude among students that is acceptable and which motivates
them to excel in school. Our goal is to recognize academic excellence in all
The chairpersons for the RENAISSANCE program are Jan McCormick
and Ralph Green. The responsibility for the 1993-94 Westwood High School
RENAISSANCE program will involve four teams:
Student Recognition and Incentives Team
Staff Recognition Team
Community Involvement Support Team
Parent Recognition Team
All members of the RENAISSANCE teams are volunteers who work in
the areas of their interest and expertise. Each group is responsible for specific
and related tasks in their respective support area. Join us and experience the
excitement of academic success through RENAISSANCE.
The sponsor information form attached to the cover letter looked like this:
WESTWOOD HIGH SCHOOL COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE
(Please respond with a check marie)
YOUR NAME___________________________HOME PHONE____________________
_______ Yes, I want to be part of Westwood High School's
RENAISSANCE program. I would like to :
_______ Make a tax-deductable donation to the school to provide for
awards and incentives for students and staff
_______ Provide scholarship monies to assist deserving students
_______ Provide grant monies to deserving teachers
_______ Donate items to be used as awards to students and staff
_______ Join one of the four teams:
Student Recognition and Incentive Team
Staff Involvement Team
Community Involvement Support Team
Parent Recognition Team
______ Use my unique and special talents to benefit the program
______ Other (list ways you can help)
______ Yes, I will support RENAISSANCE but I cannot actively
participate at this time.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMITMENT TO EXCELLENCE AT WHS
Many of these forms and documents were modeled after products of
Renaissance programs at other schools. In fact, one of the key concepts in Renaissance
is the sharing of ideas with other Renaissance schools, as is expressed in the first of
four "Tenets of Renaissance" presented in Renaissance conference handbooks:
1. B.B.S. Beg, Borrow & Share
2. B.T.M. Break The Mold
3. V.T. W. Visible, Tangible, & Walk-a-roundable Recognition
4. S.T.T.N.E. Seeing Things Through New Eyes
The Westwood High School mascot was "The Buccaneers" and the
Renaissance team members decided to call themselves and anyone associated with
Renaissance at Westwood "The C.R.E.W." which stood for "Committed to Rewarding
Excellent Work." The phrase C.R.E.W. began appearing everywhere on memos, t-
shirts, flyers, banners, and anything else touched by the program.
The process of planning for Renaissance was helpful for building staff morale
and giving the adult community in the school a new avenue for channeling its energy.
C.R.E.W. members were busy making contacts with businesses and determining what
the focus of their program would be. They received help from another high school
Renaissance coordinator from a school in an adjoining district and from their Jostens
representative, who has received extensive materials from the corporate office in
helping schools at this formative stage.
Based on other Renaissance programs, the Westwood C.R.E.W. decided to use
a card system for identifying and rewarding successful students and providing them
with discounts to area businesses based on their grade point averages (GPAs). Again,
they cleverly incorporated the school's mascot into the names of the cards, developing
the following ranking system:
Admiral Gold Card:
Commander Silver Card
Captain Bronze Card
Lieutenant Blue Card
Ensign White Card
All Passing Grades
In addition to recognizing students, the C.R.E.W. decided they needed to
encourage local businesses to participate in the program by recognizing their
contributions and participation also. A wall in the building was identified as the
"C.R.E.W. Wall of Fame," and plaques with the names of businesses that pledged to
donate goods, services, or discounts were placed on the wall under the following
Westwood High School
Renaissance Business Partners
CREW Wall of Fame
Student Academic Achievement Sponsors
Businesses (and in some cases individuals) who made cash donations to the
program were sorted by the size of their contribution and placed on the wall as well.
The following ranking system of contributors was developed:
Contributing Eagle: Up to $50.00
Soaring Eagle: $100.00
Silver Eagle: $500.00
Golden Eagle: $ l ,000.00
In addition to contacting local businesses for support, a group of C.R.E.W.
members formed the "Renaissance Alumni Involvement Team," with the mission of
keeping alumni involved in the school on both a personal and financial level. In the Fall
of 1993 the following letter was mailed to as many of the school's alumni as possible:
Dear Alumni Member:
Although your years at Westwood High School may be a dim, distant memory
of your past, we would like to update you on changes that have taken place
since your graduation. Many changes have occurred throughout the years that
may be of interest to you: several teachers that you may have known are either
retired or have transferred to other schools; pictures and other historical
memorabilia of our past graduates and athletes are now on display throughout
the building; the building has undergone 'facelifts' here and there throughout
the years; and the enrollment is approximately 1,000 students this year.
We are trying to reestablish contacts with alumni in order to model for our
current students that there is 'life after high school.' We are proud to announce
to you, our alumni, that we feel we have found a program which will help make
our high school one of pride and academic excellence -- RENAISSANCE.
During the spring of 1993, the staff at Westwood made a commitment to join
RENAISSANCE. RENAISSANCE is a network of over 1,500 innovative
schools from across the nation committed to excellence and achievement,
promoting academic success in a creative manner. RENAISSANCE recognizes
students, staff, parents, businesses and alumni. RENAISSANCE will be
administered by a dedicated groups of parents, staff, administrators, and alumni
in a joint effort with the business community. We hope to positively recognize
student achievement, academic performance, citizenship, and good attendance
by supplying meaningful incentives. Ultimately, we want to instill an attitude
among students that is acceptable and which motivates them to excel in all
We would like to solicit your support and invite you to participate in our
RENAISSANCE Alumni Involvement Team. Enclosed you will find a brochure
explaining RENAISSANCE and giving you an opportunity for commitment
We would appreciate any consideration you can give us which may include
sharing your time with us, supporting the program with your financial
contribution to RENAISSANCE (make checks payable to the Johnson
Foundation and sent to Westwood High School) or by gaining financial
support/student discounts from your current employer, to help make
WESTWOOD HIGH SCHOOL #1
We welcome your visit back to your high school 'roots,' and would love to
have you share your successes with us. Todays students need your help,
encouragement, and involvement.
We are interested in the careers each of you has chosen, and we would like to
share this information with our current students. Please fill out the enclosed
questionnaire and return it as soon as possible.
RENAISSANCE Alumni Involvement Team
Attached to the letter was a one-page questionnaire which asked for some
biographical information (name, address, current job, etc.) and short answer responses
to the following questions:
- What post-high school education or training have you had?
- How did Westwood High prepare you for your lifetime career/occupation?
- What was the highlight of your high school experience?
- How would you like to be involved in Renaissance?
- Would you be willing to return to the high school for an end-of-the-year
Alumni Celebration Dinner/Dance as a part of the RENAISSANCE program?
(All former staff and faculty will be invited.)
By the fall of the 1993-94 school year, the program was largely in place. A year
of planning had developed some highly visible methods for recognizing students,
teachers, and supporting businesses. A significant number of local merchants were
interested in participating, and a healthy war chest of money had been secured. Cash
donated to the Westwood Renaissance Program was funneled through the school
district's non-profit foundation so that contributors could deduct the donations from
their taxes. The following budget was developed for the 1993-94 school year:
Sculptured Eagle $ 60.00
T-Shirts for All Students 6,000.00
Eagle Pens for Students and Staff 2,000.00
Student Folders 600.00
Logo Watches for Perfect Attendance ($ 14 each) 1,500.00
Student Recognition Parties (Sundae, Breakfasts, Pizza, etc.) 3,000.00
Printing Student Cards @ $.85 each 600.00
Awards Night Booklet Printing Costs 1,000.00
Solid Wood Wall Seals for Clubs/Sports/Academic Subjects 5,000.00
Teacher of Excellence (Month and Year) 1,000.00
Staff Recognition Gifts 2,000.00
Renaissance Packets (Notepads, Business Cards, etc.) 2,000.00
Staff Shirts 3,600.00
Parent Certificates and Frames 500.00
Business Decals 300.00
CREW Hall of Fame Wall Plaques 1,000.00
Name Tags for Community Involvement Team 50.00
Business Frames 500.00
TOTAL AMOUNT REQUESTED $31,210.00
And Westwood was in luck: Larry Biddle, the original inspiration of
Renaissance nationally, was scheduled to speak at the at the kick-off assembly
scheduled for November. Biddle had begun to work exclusively for Jostens, and a deal
was struck with Westwood: if they would switch from their current class ring vendor to
Jostens, Biddle would speak at their assembly for free and his usual $1,000 fee would
Planning for the Kick-off was extensive and thorough. Dignitaries were invited
and materials were ordered. Jan and Ralph were not fond of the spot light, so they
designed this assembly and assemblies that followed around other people. Masters of
ceremonies were assigned, speakers were lined up, bands and choirs rehearsed, and
skits and other fun activities were produced. All orchestrated by Jan and Ralph,
Renaissance assemblies were thoroughly planned, with agendas coordinated down to
the last minute.
The local media were in attendance at the Kick-off Assembly, and a prominent
television station presented the following story on its evening newscast, watched by a
regional audience numbering in the millions:
ANCHOR: Westwood High School is joining 1,500 other schools
from around the country in a program helping students
make the grade. Our Education specialist has more.
SPECIALIST: We all know about pep rallies that encourage athletic
teams to be the best But at Westwood High School, this
pep rally is to support incentives for everyone to get
better grades. The program is called, 'Renaissance.'
Business and merchants will give discounts based on a
student's grades. Every semester, students will get
something which looks like a credit card with an I.D. on
it Students with a 4.0 will get a gold card. Other cards
will represent different levels of improvement.
Depending on the level that the businesses contribute,
students will get discounts on things like videos,
records, food, and concerts.
ASST.PRINCIPAL: (SPEAKING TO CROWD OF STUDENTS IN GYM)
You can take those cards out to businesses in the
community and get discounts and free goods, and you
are going to love it, I guarantee.
SPECIALIST: Teachers are hoping the incentives will appeal to
everyone. The at-risk student who stays in school, or the
failing student who raises his or her Grade Point
Average by half a point will benefit along with the A and
B students who raise their grades. For the most part,
students seem to think the discounts are a good idea.
MALE STUDENT: Yeah, I think it is. You know, it will encourage people to
get their grades up and everything so they will get more
and more benefits from whatever higher card they get.
FEMALE STUDENT: It's discrimination, kind of, sort of, to kids that aren't
SPECIALIST: To me, the idea is an interesting one, because when I
was in school, you didn't get incentives like these to get
good grades. So what's the difference? Teachers tell me
schools are under pressure to keep every student in
school. In the SOs and 60s, they say, many more
students dropped out. As a result, there is now a greater
effort to come up with ways to improve every student's
performance. Discount cards, they hope, will do that.
ANCHOR: The Renaissance program also provides dinners and
other benefits for teachers who go the extra mile. Any
businesses interested in participating in the program can
contact Westwood High School.
After the assembly, Biddle told the the Renaissance Core Committee that their
assembly was the best Renaissance Kick-off he had ever attended. This story was
repeated again and again during the course of my research, by teachers, administrators,
and students. The assembly achieved its purpose of setting the tone for the program it
inaugurated. The rebirth of Westwood had begun.
Before and after the kickoff, local business persons and politicians were
sending letters to C.R.E.W. members praising them for their innovative efforts
building linkages with the community through student recognition. One letter from a
local design firm read:
It's exciting! It's exciting to feel that local businesses can actually make an
impact on our educational institutions.
'Local Businesses Rescue Local Schools.' Wouldn't that be a wonderful media
headline? It's true through the Renaissance program. This program offers
businesses, large and small, the opportunity to reward students for setting and
achieving academic goals. Teachers and parents need this kind of support and
'Motivation and Recognition' are keys to stimulating youth today. Not
just the straight A academic achiever, the super athlete, or the popular
cheerleader. Local businesses can say to all students, 'we're behind you in your
efforts to graduate. Bring your Academic Achievement Card here and we'll
salute you and reward you! Say (student), keep up the good work; I may
want to hire you in the near future.'
Sponsors, I commend you for researching and studying the ramifications of
Renaissance for Westwood High School. We hope each and every local
business person will take the time and listen with an 'open mind' to the
presentation of this program.
Another letter was from the manager of a large international insurance company
headquartered in the Westwood area. It read:
You hear it on the news, and you read it in the paper that kids today need more
educational skills to compete in the job market Well, Westwood High School is
trying to do something about it, and so can local businesses.
Westwood High School has come up with a new program called
'Renaissance.' This program enables the school to motivate students to
improve their grades, when they do so they are recognized.
We're not talking about just recognizing the A student. All students
with grades will be evaluated each semester, and those students whose grades
improved enough to raise them to a higher level in this program will be
Local businesses can be a part of the program by helping with the
recognition portion of the program. I hope each and every local business person
will have an open mind to the presentation of the program.
The sponsors of the Renaissance program for Westwood High School are
to be commended for the time and energy they have put into this program.
They are really excited, because they believe this program will make a
difference at their school.
Yet another letter was from a Johnson County Commissioner, one of five
elected officials responsible for managing the county governmental operations. His
letter was addressed to Ted Jones and said:
I want to congratulate you on the Renaissance program that is now in place at
Westwood High School. It is very encouraging to know that students are being
rewarded for academic excellence. You must be proud of the positive ideals you
are teaching your students.
I wish you continued success in the future.
C.R.E.W. members and school officials received additional letters as well, and
none of them were thrown away or allowed to collect dust They were used to promote
the program to other businesses and shown to faculty as a source of pride and evidence
the program's popularity and success.
In February 1994 another Renaissance assembly was held to award cards for
students who earned them with their fall semester GPAs. The Renaissance steering
committee wanted to select a speaker who would be motivational for all students and at
the same time present a message with special significance for the school's Hispanic
population. Data collected by the school showed that the attendance rates and
graduation rates for the school's Latino population lagged behind the rates of other
students, and there was some hope that Renaissance could help address the situation.
Richard Mora, a community relations officer at a local community college and candidate
for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the local district was chosen to
The following article appeared in the local paper soon after the assembly:
Thirty years into the school's history, Westwood High School is undergoing a
Renaissance of sorts.
In fact, a new program designed to inspire students to higher levels of
academic excellence is called just that: Renaissance.
Although administered by the non-profit Johnson Foundation,
Renaissance is a national program adopted by 1,500 schools nationwide in
which area merchants reward students for academic excellence and grade
improvement from one semester to the next.
Locally, Taco Bell, Pepsi, McDonald's, TCBY Yogurt, Grocery Mart,
and Jostens Corp., are among the companies which have signed up to support
Westwood High School in its efforts to create a climate of academic excellence.
'Oh, man, since I was a freshman I wanted a program that made
Westwood a school of excellence,' said student body president Donna
Richards. We really are a good school, but we couldn't accomplish what we
are doing today without the businesses.'
Sponsoring companies offer varying degrees of discounted products
and services to students based on their grade-point averages.
They also send representatives and prizes to pep rallies held each
semester in honor of the school's academic superstars.
Started last November, the first Renaissance pep rally featured a rousing
speech by the program's creator, Larry Biddle, a former school administrator
from Myrtle Beach, S.C. and the deafening applause of the entire student body.
'We're going to begin celebrating academic achievement at the same
levels we celebrate athletics,' Biddle said.
Since the kick-off of the program, the excitement has been mounting,
said Westwood High School principal Ted Jones.
Two weeks ago, a second academic pep rally featured Richard Mora,
who recently announced he is seeking a seat in the U.S. House of
The solution to the crisis in our society is not external,' said Mora,
who told the audience how he overcame his bad-boy image. The true poverty
is one of the spirit, but there's a weapon you can use. It's knowledge and it's
the great equalizer.'
After Mora's speech, 319 students nearly a third of the student body
- were awarded merchant cards for grade-point averages of 3.0 or above or a
0.5 GPA increase.
In addition, 66 students with GPAs of 3.8 and above, were commended
during Academic Awards Night, Jan. 31. For the first time in the school's
history, scholars received letters, an honor generally reserved for school
*We've heard from a lot of parents and kids that they really appreciate
these kinds of incentives,' said Jones. It's all very positive.'
The C.R.E.W. assessed the state of the program at the end of its first year and
felt they had been successful in numerous ways. The year of planning had paid off
because the program was well organized, and the school had received substantial
community attention. Renaissance had been a public relations bonanza, and the future
of the school and the Renaissance program were together looking brighter all the time.
In their assessment, however, the C.R.E.W. identified two problem areas they
needed to address for the following 1994-95 school year. The problems were related:
they had failed to involve enough parents, and they had failed to involve enough
teachers. They concluded that if the program was to survive for the long haul, they
needed a more inclusive structure and process. They needed to delegate more
responsibilities and solicit more direct support. They could not afford to allow the
masses to remain on the sidelines while the core C.R.E.W. members did all the work.
C.R.E.W. needed to be strengthened by growth and participation to remain successful.
The attempt to secure support from alumni had failed, and the decision was made to
focus more on parents and teachers in the future.
To address the parent involvement problem, Ted Jones volunteered his house
for a cookout for parents. All parents would be invited, and the C.R.E.W. would
explain more about Renaissance and ask for more direct parent help. The following
letter went home to each Westwood High family:
The Westwood High School Renaissance would like to invite you to a
hamburger fry on May 31st at principal Ted Jones' house. Cocktails and/or pop
will be served from 5:15 p.m. till 5:59 p.m. and the food will be served at 6:00
p.m.! There will be a short meeting explaining how Renaissance works and
how parent involvement could help us become one of the top high schools in
the metro area.
The students, faculty, and staff are very proud of the first year accomplishments
of our Renaissance program. This program already has had lasting benefits for
everyone in our school community. We are considered to be one of the top high
schools in the state and now we would like you to help us become the state's
number one Renaissance school by June of 1995.
Renaissance is built around the concept of this community's businesses
working together with the school to reward academics and self-improvement
Therefore, the main goals are to improve student performance at all levels and
recognize teachers and everyone in the schools. Renaissance rewards
improvement effort individual responsibility and develops an attitude of pride
in achievement. Many of Westwoods students have shown marked
improvement in their GPAs, attendance, and attitude about school. Renaissance
card holders have enthusiastically been taking advantage of discounts this
It is now time to take advantage of the power you as parents can bring to a
school. Westwood High School wants to give our students an advantage that
other schools don't offer. With your involvement, our school can immediately
explode into one of the most recognized in the area. We will have students
transferring here to become a part of Westwood.
Please consider coming to this Renaissance cookout to see why we are so
excited about this program. Parent involvement is what will put us over the top
on being number one!!
As a result of the parent cookout, more parents did become involved. A group
of organized and ambitious moms and dads took over the task of producing the
Renaissance cards each semester, a huge task, considering the number of cards
awarded usually exceeded 500. This freed Renaissance core members to focus their
energies on larger organizational tasks like fundraising and assembly planning.
To address the concern about too little faculty participation, the C.R.E.W. need
to overcome the perception that C.R.E.W. members were becoming too territorial with
the program, and that particularly Jan and Ralph needed to let go of some of the
decision-making. Some teachers felt they were allowed to be "gophers" only, being
asked to execute the plans others developed without having any voice in the
brainstorming that took place before the plans were created. As more and more people
expressed an interest in participating, no doubt inspired by the program's publicity and
success, the C.R.E.W. committed to sharing more of the planning responsibilities,
even if it meant letting go of personal visions for the good of the group's vision. In
fact, many people shared the fear that core members of the C.R.E.W. would become
burned out because of the enormous amount of time the Renaissance consumed, and
they had reached a natural point in the life of the program to include more people and to
solicit a broader range of ideas about the direction of the program.
When the next year arrived, new business participants had been secured,
students were becoming more aware of the program, and the school received lots of
positive attention. In addition to continued reports in the mainstream press, articles
appeared in the school district's weekly newsletter and in a neighborhood homeowners'
association newsletter as well. The homeowners' newsletter read:
Have you heard about Westwood's award-winning 'Renaissance' program?
This new program successfully uses community resources to help inspire
students to higher levels of academic achievement
Neighborhood citizens and businesses have joined Westwood High School
teachers in a 'Renaissance' a program in which the entire community gets
involved in promoting the value of education. We all help recognize and reward
neighborhood kids who are working to get good grades and maintain good
attendance. For example, Taco Bell, McDonald's and TCBY offer discounted
products to good students. Other neighborhood merchants helping are Floral
Arrangements. Grocery Mart and Change Julius.
The Homeowners' Association congratulates Westwood High School for the
success of their 'Renaissance' program. Community support of this program is
serving to help Westwood High emerge as a Center of Excellence for academic
achievement while reducing the drop-out rates. How can you help? Do you own
a business or have business connections? Would you like to make a tax-
deductible donation? Contact the school main office.
The first of several t-shirt contests was held, involving students in art classes
who designed "Westwood Renaissance" logos. The sample t-shirt designs were
displayed for several weeks and the winning art work was selected by a vote of the
student body. Large numbers of the shirts were then printed and given to card holders.
Westwood faculty meetings were altered as a result of Renaissance as well. It
became the norm that each meeting would be stopped for recognition activities.
Teachers were recognized for a wide range of accomplishments, successes, and
services, from small (serving on a committee) to large (earning a graduate degree).
Sometimes they were given gift certificates, but more often they were given humorous
gifts like "assorted thing holders" which were castoff student projects from the
ceramics room. Typically these awards were given in the middle of a meeting. The
meeting would be progressing according to its agenda when someone would sound a
bell and the meeting would halt. The awards were given at that time, usually
accompanied with a barrage of jokes and good-natured kidding. The awards served to
lighten the tone of the meetings and to bring recognition to faculty member
accomplishments and good deeds which might otherwise go unnoted. When money
was spent on rewards, it came from the Renaissance fund.
New forms and documents were being produced as the program evolved and as
C.R.E.W. members became more creative about how to recognize students, teachers,
parents, and business sponsors. Certificates for "V.I.Ps" (Very Important Parents)
were developed and distributed to parents who donated their time, and forms for
students to nominate the'Teacher of the Month" were generated and circulated.
Attractive red, white, and blue signs were created for businesses to hang on their
premises which said, "This business is proud to honor Westwood High School."
Beneath those words were the Renaissance eagle logo and the words, "Rewarding
A new flyer for the program had been developed and was being widely
circulated throughout the community. Constructed by folding a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper
into three columns, each column was then folded on the other and printed on both
sides. The cover had a ship and the words, "Westwood High School, Committed to
Rewarding Excellent Work." Underneath the ship and the C.R.E.W. slogan was again
the Jostens Renaissance logo. On the back of the pamphlet was the statement, "Young
people are only 24% of our population, but 100% of our future!" Inside, the flyer read:
Westwood High School is proud to join 1500 other high schools throughout the
nation in making a real commitment to student academic excellence and self*
improvement through Renaissance. This program involves the teaming of area
merchants with the school to recognize student excellence and, at the same time,
enhance merchants' business and goodwill. The program is managed by the
Johnson foundation, a 501 (c)(3) organization whose mission is to provide
private initiative to develop and fund programs expanding educational
opportunities for students.
RENAISSANCE REWARDS EFFORT
Honor students are not the only persons rewarded by the Westwood
Renaissance program. The goad is to improve student performance at ALL
levels and recognize outstanding teachers. The at-risk student who stays in
school and the failing student who raises his or her grade pint average (GPA)
by .5 are as important to Renaissance as the B student whose grades become
As. Renaissance rewards improvement, effort, individual responsibility and
develops an attitude of pride in achievement
HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS
Depending on their qualifications. Renaissance program members receive a
GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE, BLUE OR WHITE card. Participating businesses
and merchants provide specified discounts to students, upon the purchase of
designated items. In addition, students receive other benefits and premiums at
school for their accomplishments.
HOW RENAISSANCE CAN HELP THE LOCAL MERCHANT
To recognize businesses and merchants who help encourage and support
student success, Westwood High School will:
Recognize participating businesses and merchants in monthly school
and parent newsletters and in the student newspaper.
Issue school decals to those businesses that support academic excellence
at Westwood High School
List all participating businesses and merchants in Westwood's
Renaissance Wall of Fame'
HOW TO BECOME A C.R.E.W. MEMBER
Westwood High School invites our area merchants to join C.R.E. W. to help
stress to students the importance of regular attendance, good grades, and
improving overall performance. Merchants and businesses which support
Renaissance value performance, reliability, and dependability in their
employees, and recognize that "Today's Students are Tomorrow's Leaders."
Businesses use this program to reward students who exhibit these qualities.
Other details in the flyer included a description of the ranking system for cash
contributors discussed previously and a tear-off form for businesses to complete and
return to the school if they are interested in participating in the program.
One of the first major Renaissance activities I attended was the Winter
Renaissance Pep Assembly in February of 1995, held to honor card recipients from the
fall semester and winter athletes. On my way to the assembly, I walked the halls of the
school and saw evidence of Renaissance all over the school. In addition to the
Renaissance Wall of Fame, red, white, and blue "Renaissance: Dedicated to
Excellence" banners were draped everywhere. One bulletin board had posted the names
of all card holders by color for the last semester, and several students were studying the
lists to find their names and the names of friends and other peers.
I took a seat in the bleachers with the faculty members who were not part of the
program. All of the school's 50 teachers were there along with approximately three-
fourths of the student body.
The gym was a large, cavernous, "pit style" facility with balconies on both
sides and bleachers down to the wood basketball floor. Several murals depicted
buccaneers on the gym's walls. Banners representing the other league schools were
displayed on the north wall, and the few league and state championship teams the
school owned were represented by banners suspended from the rafters. Students filed
in and crowded into the bleachers adjacent to the floor. Only a few spill-over students
were forced to find seating in the balconies. The band was seated at the south end of the
gym and played continuously as students entered. The tunes were typical collegiate pep
songs, marches, and a smattering of popular tunes I recognized but couldn't name.
When everyone was in and seated, the band began to play the school song and
everyone stood. Some sang along, but their voices were muffled by the band,
approximately 60 students strong.
When two men in tuxedos came to the microphone, the band stopped and the
crowd quieted down. The men were both assistant principals who were to be the
masters of ceremony for the show. They welcomed the students and faculty and
announced that they were there to recognize student scholarship and athletics. Behind
them were seated the principal, another assistant principal, and another dignitary, the
guest speaker. Behind this row of participants were approximately 30 students seated in
three horseshoe rows. They had helium-filled, blue and white balloons tied to their
chairs. The male students had on coats and ties, and the female students were in dresses
or suits. In front of the podium was a blue and white wrestling mat From the balcony
where I sat, I saw a sea of blue and white the band uniforms, the balloons, the mat,
all bright and clean.
The Master of Ceremonies began by asking Renaissance card holders to rise
when the color of their card was called out. The whites stood first students who made
a gain in their G.P. A. from one semester to the next. Then the blues, the silvers, the
golds. The audience discovered that many of the students seated in the chairs with
balloons were gold card holders perfect 4.0s for the fall semester that recently ended.
When each group stood, the crowd cheered. The band played. The faculty stood and
remained standing and applauding until all card holders had been recognized.
When finished, the M.C. made several solemn comments about the dignity of
those students who strove for academic excellence and achieved their goals, all in the
name of "Buccaneer Pride." He then said that he wanted to introduce the day's guest
speaker, but before doing so, he wanted the audience to join him in singing "Take Me
Out to the Ball Game." With microphone in hand, he circled the gym floor, singing the
song and leading the crowd in several rounds of the song's chorus. A mascot for a
local professional baseball team came out and danced with with the school's mascot, a
student dressed in a blue buccaneer suit.
The assembly's guest speaker was the senior vice manager for the local
professional baseball team. In his introduction, the M.C. emphasized that the manager
was an accomplished high school athlete before attending college and later becoming a
professional baseball player himself. The manager spoke about the importance of all
students putting the classroom first, ahead of jobs, sports, or social activities. He talked
about the important role his high school education played in his life, and how young
people should strive to get the most out of their high school days.
The M. C. then joined him, and together they announced the names of those
students who had been selected by the state's high school activities association as
"scholar athletes." These students came down individually when their names were
called, and the M.C. announced the sports in which they had lettered. The manager
gave them a certificate and a handshake. To qualify for this award, these students must
have lettered in two sports and maintained a 3.75-4.0 G.P.A. Honorable mention
recipients, who had 3.5-3.74 G.P.A.s, were also recognized. Both groups numbered
around 15 each, with an even blend of males and females. Few were minorities.
When the speaker was finished recognizing students, several students took the
microphone and recognized the speaker. Representatives of the Westwood baseball
team gave him a team cap and a t-shirt and thanked him for participating.
After the students finished speaking, the school's wrestling coach took the
microphone and invited everyone to the wrestling match to be held that evening. But,
he said, they wouldn't have to wait until evening to see some quality wrestling, because
on hand were several "World Wrestling Federation" contenders ready to grapple for the
tag team title. He introduced the challengers, "Terrible Tom Thumb" and the "Phantom
of the Opera," and the defending champions, "Gorgeous George" and "Crazy Ken."
Four faculty members dressed in outlandish costumes took the mat, and with the
wrestling coach refereeing, they sparred for several minutes, much to the amusement of
the student body. When the tag team match was over, two more faculty members
"wrestled" for the individual world title. The band played melodramatic music
throughout the contest, complete with drum rolls and charging battle anthems. For the
record, "The Homy Devil," who must have been at least 60 years old and very thin,
defeated the "Blue Streak," a robust, solid young man of maybe 250 pounds, for the
"World Title." The students responded well, laughing throughout the activity at the
Principal Jones then took the podium and concluded the assembly by saying he
was proud of the Buccaneers' accomplishments in academics, athletics, and their
improvement in school attendance. He thanked all the participants for coming, and
announced that a luncheon would be held following the assembly for invited persons
only. The rest of the student body was released for the day.
After the assembly, I followed the invited guests to the site of the recognition
banquet. High school home economics rooms are hard facilities to make appear elegant,
but the Westwood Renaissance Recognition Luncheon Committee and its hired caterer
did their best to create an ambiance suitable for the occasion. Of course, the rooms
arent used for teaching home economics" anymore. The program has been renamed
Consumer and Family Studies in an attempt to better reflect the content of the course,
currently geared towards boys as well as girls, and to emphasize the societal shifting of
housework from career status to annoying necessity. Posters about cooking quick and
nutritious" meals clutter the walls. Tables ordinarily used for seating students with
notebooks were draped with white linen tablecloths and adorned with attractive floral
centerpieces. Still, the cutlery was plastic and the plates were paper.
In attendance for this twice-a-year event was an assortment of individuals -
school officials, parents, business community representatives, media people, and of
course, students. But not just any students: these Westwood Scholars" had earned 4.0
grade point averages during the years first semester, as signified by the gold colored
medallions which hung from their necks on red, white, and blue ribbons. Jan and
Ralph were busily seeing to the needs of their guests, working with the caterer to make
sure the punch was iced, the chicken was hot, and the microphone was live.
I found my name tag at a table with two parents, two teachers (one math and
one science), and the area superintendent. When I arrived, the show choir was in the
middle of a lively song and the waiters were finished serving meals to the seated
guests. When the song was over, two students from the choir one boy and one girl -
took seats with the luncheon group, while the rest of the singers filed out into the hall
and were evidently free to go.
The meal was excellent As the area superintendent at the table explained, the
caterer would usually charge $15 a plate for a spread like this, but in support of the
Renaissance cause, he had reduced the fee to $10. The area superintendent went on to
say that the caterer was a local businessman who often donated his time and service to
the schools, and if we knew of anyone needing a caterer, for a wedding or similar
event, this business could undoubtedly perform the job well.
After everyone was seated Principal Jones took the podium and welcomed those
in attendance. He began with the business people, mostly area merchants and
restaurateurs who had provided money to the program and who offered discounts to
cardholders. He called them up by name and gave them shirts, hats, and certificates. He
noted the presence of a school board member and the area superintendent While we
ate, he spoke to the assembled guests. He didn't use notes, but didnt chat with the
group either, even though most of us there knew him from one past event or another.
In his mid-forties, Mr. Jones voice was quiet and calm. He wore a suit unusually light
for the season, and cut more for an evening outing than for a scholastic gathering. He
used his hands for gesturing, but not emphatically. His demeanor showed reservation,
solemnity and a certain seriousness about his job and the day's event. He said:
At a time when discipline is such a problem, and student behavior is a public
issue everywhere, it does my heart good to see that this faculty has chosen to
focus on your learning. We are doing something right we are modeling
something to you by saying that as workers in this business the business of
education there are some benefits some perks for being good workers.
Businesses across the country have experienced that recognizing quality brings
out quality. They know what happens when they reward their employees for
making good decisions and working hard to further the focus or mission of
their business. Well, our focus and mission is education. Our product is you -
students and the skills that you possess. When you leave us hopefully you
possess unlimited choices. Not that we are gearing everyone to go to an Ivy
League college, or a four year school here in our state, or a two year vocational
school, or whatever. The point is that when you leave here, you can access any
of those things if you so wish. So our mission, our goal, is to make sure that
you have the skills to be able to do that. And what you are doing in classrooms,
and why you are here today is evidence of the fact that for this school year you
are doing an extremely fine job. You need to know from this group here today
that we appreciate the efforts that you put in to the classrooms. The decisions
that you make, to not go out on a particular night because you know you need
to get some work done, or because you have a work ethic that says I get up
some days and I don't feel like going to work, but you know you have other
people relying on you or you have certain things to do that you can't make up.
Those are the qualities that are extremely transportable when you leave this
place. They will move with you and work for you in any other environment you
go in to, whether its college or a vocational center, or the world of work, people
value that work ethic. You know, its been said that people's success is 98 %
perspiration and 2% inspiration, and that's very true, because extraordinary
people are really ordinary people that just do things in an extraordinary manner.
So again, I appreciate you and your efforts and I am glad we could celebrate
this day together. Congratulations.
When he finished, the audience applauded his remarks. He then began to
recognize those who had prepared the event and those in attendance. Everyone received
a gift. Some were given t-shirts, others gift certificates, a few plaques. I was given a
royal blue baseball cap with a red pirate embroidered on the front with the slogan,
Westwood High: Run With Renaissance. I also received a coupon for $5 off a dinner
at an area restaurant
Dan Hernandez, who owned the Taco Bell across the street from Westwood,
was given a plaque to hang in his store. It said, Taco Bell Supports Excellence at
Mr. Hernandez said that several years ago he was considering selling his
business because he was so put off by the behavior of the Westwood kids at his
We had kids loitering in our parking lot all day. We had trash thrown all over
the place, and adult customers were afraid to stop here. When I would
complain, nothing would happen.One day a student and a teacher came by and
asked if I would donate to their Renaissance program, and I said, 'No way.
Your school has about driven me out of business.' I told them if they could get
kids to behave better on my property, maybe I would consider it. The next day,
I got a call from the principal, and things started to improve. Kids didnt take up
my parking spots any more. They didnt loiter around. Once the whole student
council came over and picked up all the trash on my property and in the vacant
field beside it. I am a believer in Renaissance now and I believe in Westwood
The schools Jostens representative was given a special award for his
commitment to Westwood High and his support for the Renaissance program. Principal
Jones noted that he had financed a trip for three Westwood faculty members to a
Renaissance conference the preceding summer, and had also provided the medallions
wom by the 4.0 students in attendance.
One of the parents at our table, the mother of a sophomore daughter and a
senior son, said that she had received a beautiful sweatshirt earlier in the year for her
volunteer work. I was embarrassed to accept it, she said. At the time I thought that 1
would have rather seen the money spent on a student than on me. But I was told the
sweatshirts were donated, and so I felt better.
The area superintendent said that the Renaissance-related fundraising that
Westwood had done was exceptional. He pointed out that businesses were eager to
donate products, services, and even cash to academically-related causes. For years,
sports teams and activities like marching band have had a monopoly on fundraising
here. Now that academic fundraising is in the picture, we have a whole new group of
community members willing to donate, he said.
Both of the mothers at the table served on the schools Renaissance Advisory
Committee and also volunteered their time to help prepare the discount cards given to
students each semester. They said that in addition to discounts area businesses
provided, more and more businesses were contributing material goods to be given to
students at events like this one. They added that their kids used their cards often for
reduced meal prices and for discounts on clothing purchases. The science teacher noted
that cash donations were the hardest to come by, but also the most useful for the
Renaissance entered its third full year of implementation in the fall of 1995. Jan
and Ralph continued to co-chair the Renaissance steering committee, but many familiar
faces were gone from Westwood. Both assistant principals who attended the original
Renaissance conference with Jan and Ralph transferred to other high schools in the
district. Judy Turner and Dorothy Scott, who co-chaired the Community Involved
Support Team, both transferred to other schools as well. And the biggest change of all,
Ted Jones took another principalship at a new high school in the district. A new
principal, Linda Robinson, was hired. Linda had been an assistant principal at
Westwood in the years before Renaissance began, and most recently had been on
special assignment in the district's central office.
Ted Jones had put a good deal of his clout behind Renaissance in the preceding
years, and there was some concern whether Linda Robinson would support the
program in the ways that he had. Their styles were different in several key ways. Ted
had a flashiness about him that lent itself to the Renaissance approach, while Linda was
more subtle in her public relations approaches. As the year unfolded, Linda proved to
be supportive of Renaissance but chose to be less directly involved than Ted had been.
She encouraged Renaissance activities to take place and participated when she was
asked, but she was clearly not a force behind the program, and chose rather to allow
those who had been involved since its inception, namely Jan and Ralph, to stay the
course they had selected before she was on board.
Westwood was just completing a 4.5 million dollar remodel, and Linda was
preoccupied at the beginning of the year with seeing the project to its completion. The
beginning of the year was delayed by the construction for several weeks, and
Renaissance activities usually associated with the beginning of the year were delayed as
well. Jan and Ralph received numerous calls from area business representatives saying
that they wanted to be involved, and that they were curious about why they had not
been contacted. Students and parents also noticed the delay. Several called to voice their
concern that Renaissance was now a part of their schooling experience and they missed
the activities associated with it.
The newly remodeled building was a big boost to student and faculty morale.
Much of the money had been spent on cosmetic renovations, and the school looked
better than it had in years. The remodel, the new principal, and Renaissance helped lift
the school's spirit higher than it had been in recent memory. New banners with the
names of area merchants who contributed to the school through Renaissance were made
in coordinated colors and were displayed prominently in the cafeteria.
After changes each preceding semester, the discount cards issued to students
had taken a more or less stable form, and the following discounts were made available:
Staff Appreciation Card/Parent Appreciation Card
Sea Food Restaurant
Car Oil/Lube Service
Auto Parts Store/Carage
Sub and Salad Shop
$1.00 off any 6" sandwich
Buy 1/2 dozen bagels, get 3 free
15% off purchase
15% off all service labor charges
20% off total bill, not good with other offers
$2.00 off any haircut
Free appetizer with purchase of dinner entree
$5.00 off any oil change
Ensign (White) Card (All Passing Grades)
Free 16 oz. soda with purchase of sandwich
Sub and Salad Shop
Buy one sundae, get second at half price
10% off any purchase
$1.00 off any 6" sandwich
Receive one new release video rental free
10% off any item
10% off ticket price
Buy one six-pack Pepsi, get one free
Free 16 oz. drink with any purchase
Lieutenant (Blue) Card (3.0 3.49 G.P.A.)
This card is identical to the Ensign Card, except that the Rower Shop gave a 20%
discount for the Blue Card.
Commander (Bronze) Card (3.5 3.79 G.P.A.)
This card is identical to the Lieutenant and Ensign Cards, except that the Flower Shop
gave a 30 % discount and Wendy's gave a free pack of fries instead of a free drink for
die Commander Card.
Captain (Silver) Card (3.8-3.99 G.P.A.)
Sub and Salad Shop
Buy any sandwich, get one free
Buy one, get one free (except specials, pies,
cakes, pints, and quarts)
50 % off
10 % off
$1.00 off any 6" sandwich
Receive one new release video rental free
15% off any item
15% off ticket price
Buy one six-pack Pepsi, get one free
Buy any super value item and get one super value
Admiral (Gold) Card (4.0 G.P.A.)
This card was identical to the Silver Card except that the School Store gave a 20%
discount and students received 20% off the admission price to school dances with the
In February of 1996, another assembly was held to recognize students who had
earned cards from their performances the previous semester. A retired place kicker for
the local professional football team was the featured speaker. He discussed the
importance of students pursuing their dreams and staying in school. A student-
generated video about the school was presented by its creators, and other students
performed amusing skits. The school's new principal, Linda Robinson, made the
A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to President Clinton's State of the
Union Address. The President addressed a concern of ours here at Westwood,
the education of our young people. One of the things the President said was that
every single person in our country deserves and is entitled to an education. I
believe that is the basis of the philosophy upon which we are built here at
Westwood High School. I also believe that we go out of our way each and
every day to reach each and every student. The staff and faculty who interact
with you every day realize it is our responsibility and our commitment and our
duty to provide for all of you a safe, a healthy and most assuredly a challenging
academic world here. So what you are going to see here today is in fact our
definition of academic excellence and academic growth. And I ask you to look
for something else here today, and that is to see the intangibles and our
philosophy that we espouse, and that is the belief in the potential and the power
of young people. And so look for those strong relationships between teachers
and students when there is mutual respect and when there are high expectations.
Look too for the validation that our young people feel from their friends, from
their parents, and from other family members when they make good and
positive decision for themselves. And finally, I think we have to look at what
happens when the business leaders and the community members of Greenridge
reach into our high school and say. These kids are important to us, and we
want to reward them for the absolutely wonderful things that they do as young
people, and, for the fact that they are our leaders of tomorrow.' So I hope that
you have a wonderful time with us.
Renaissance cards were handed out after the Renaissance assembly. Students
formed lines according to the color of their cards. Lists of student names were posted
so everyone would know which color card they had earned, if they had earned one at
all. Students who disputed their ranking went to the principal's office and asked to have
their GPAs recalculated. Some claimed a grade had been changed or that some other
error had occurred. Many students (hundreds) flocked around and compared cards to
see where the best deals were.
As evidence of the program's success, the school often cited the increase in the
number of cards awarded after several years of implementation. (See Appendix E for
program success statistics.) Far more students were eligible for gold cards after the
program had been in place for three years than when it had begun. More students were
passing more classes and earning white cards than they had before Renaissance as
well.. Teachers and administrators were disappointed that attendance had not improved
much, if at all, but they were determined to continue trying to alter poor attendance
patterns, and their disappointment was tempered by the notable gains in overall student
grade point averages.
As is the tradition at most American high schools, Westwood held an awards
ceremony several days before graduation. The school's valedictorians and salutatorians
were named, department awards ("Best Science Student," etc.) were given out,
outstanding performances in clubs and activities (newspaper, drama, etc.) were
recognized, and awards from outside organizations (Masons, Navy, etc.) were
presented. Renaissance was not a part of the evening. Both the traditional recognition
ceremony and the graduation which followed several days later were untouched by
Renaissance-style rewarding. The awards given out on these two occasions were
symbolic medallions, plaques, certificates, in addition to scholarships, which were
monetary but earmarked for a specific purpose. No t-shirts or balloons or discount
cards. In essence, the conventional system of recognizing and rewarding students for
their exemplary performances remained intact and unchanged even as a parallel system
of recognizing and rewarding developed on its own. The merger of the two systems did
not occur. They had different aims and different methods. Renaissance sought to
reward as many students as possible for performing well and used concrete, tangible
rewards with material value to do so. The conventional recognition system sought to
identify those truly elite students who out-performed all others and used a more
abstract, symbolic approach to recognition by bestowing titles and positions rather than
objects and discounts.
The school staff ended the year with a humor-filled recognition luncheon
catered with Renaissance money. The top 10 reasons for working at Westwood were
listed in reverse order. The humor centered around personal jokes too subde for an
outsider to understand, but the staff clearly enjoyed the displays of wit. The "Rookie
Teacher of the Year" was recognized, as was the 'Sponsor of the Year." Custodians,
cooks, security personnel, and secretaries were given gift certificates to area businesses
as recognition for the countless acts of service they provided for the school during the
year. Morale had not been this high in ages, and Renaissance was largely responsible.
After four years of planning and implementation, Renaissance was responsible
for some significant changes in the school's climate. Virtually everyone in the school
community was familiar with the program and most people had strong opinions about
its worth, effectiveness, and meaning. In interviews and questionnaires, students and
teachers generally seemed eager to express their insights about Renaissance. Some
characteristic comments are provided here.
A typical response from students who held Renaissance cards and made good
grades was that the card did not alter their behavior, but did provide a pleasant reward
for behaviors they would perform anyway. From a questionnaire:
Westwood has this Renaissance program in order to give credit and special
attention to those who succeed, rather than focusing on punishing those who
don't It hasn't changed my personal academic behavior, only because I was a
good student before the program, but it definitely gives me something to look
forward to after receiving good grades. I think every determined and hopeful
student feels this way. It's made academics a much more positive concept. The
cards are great! I use mine a few times a week, usually at McDonald's and
Orange Julius, but it comes in handy everywhere else. Renaissance has had the
same impact on my friends that it has had on me. We were already determined
students before, but now we know we have some type of award for this. I
don't hear a lot of discussion about the program, but what I have heard has
always been positive and supportive. The assemblies are fun. Some people may
say that they're boring or stupid, but those are usually the ones who don't care
about school at all; the ones who don't receive cards. The assemblies bring the
student body closer by supporting school spirit We're lucky to have the
speakers and audience that we get. I definitely agree with the purpose of the
program. Students are always getting in trouble for the bad things that they do.
And few students get academic awards, but usually only because of
nominations, or having to apply for them. The Renaissance program makes
every student who puts effort into school feel proud and successful. This is a
positive reinforcement that will only make students try harder.
Another similar response:
Well, most of my friends are Renaissance card holders. Personally, and I speak
for myself as well as my friends, the cards are taken for granted. Although they
signify special privileges, it does not seem like a special privilege to have one. I
consider my card, which is gold, to be handy, but not overly so. Overall, I
think that the Renaissance program is a good one which has many positive
aspects. The Renaissance assemblies are especially beneficial. I have noticed
that at the assemblies people are honored whose efforts normally would go
unnoticed. The recognition the assemblies provide is very important in
celebrating the academic achievements of students rather than their athletic
triumphs. The focus on academics at the assemblies is good for the entire
school. I don't think that the program encourages people to change their grades,
but it is a very attractive incentive or award for those who earn good grades
Another student who made good grades and didn't feel the program altered her
behavior noticed the public relations benefit Renaissance provided for the school, as
many other students did as well. Her response was typical:
The Westwood Renaissance program is set to improve grades and Westwood's
community exposure. I do not believe that it has improved my grades and
attendance because I do good in that categoiy anyway. Westwood is getting
some community exposure because of Renaissance, but the same people keep
getting cards, not new. I use my Renaissance card about two times a week.
Renaissance has a slight impact on my friends, and some of my teachers post
Renaissance news, but don't really talk about it.
Another student who noted the public relations benefits of Renaissance said:
Personally, 1 believe Westwood has the Renaissance program not only to
further education within the school but to promote and develop the good
reputation of our school. The sad reality is that Westwood has an extremely
tarnished reputation because of past occurrences, and being the pioneer in a
program such as Renaissance would help create a new opinion of our school
within the community.
Westwood is different because of Renaissance in that more and more students
are achieving both better grades and better attendance. Although I'm all for this,
I still don't feel it's right to have to 'bribe' students in order to motivate them to
do better. True, it is nice to be able to have that extra discount every now and
then, but those who achieve highly with Renaissance were also high achievers
before Renaissance, and needed no external motivation. By the time
Renaissance or a program similar to it is integrated at the high school level,
most of a student's study habits, etc. are already developed and are minimally
affected by the program. Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to
improve and change, but one must take into consideration the reality of an 'old
dog learning new tricks' so to speak. My point is that high achievers will
pursue excellence with or without Renaissance because they are motivated
internally and need not be bribed.
Concerning the recognition of students with good grades, I believe that it is an
inevitable part of being a high achiever and is necessary. It's unlike bribery,
because bribery is done before the act, whereas recognition occurs after.
Recognition therefore helps to stimulate further the internal motivation of the
student, with knowing that excellence is not overlooked.
The student who responded above had clearly given some thought to the nature
of recognition, which is another common pattern in the questionnaire and interview
data. I speculated that students in a Renaissance school had been given cause to think
more about motivation than students in schools where motivation, recognition, and
rewarding were not as overt as they were at Westwood.
Other students were quick to point out that Renaissance helped change
Westwood, and they were aware that the support for the program came from the
community. A typical questionnaire response in this regard:
Westwood has a Renaissance program to recognize those students with all
passing grades to a 4.0 G.P.A. Renaissance has helped me keep my grades up
because it gives me something to work for. I believe that Westwood is changing
for the better. Students in my opinion think it is fun to be recognized for their
hard work and dedication. I use my card whenever I can. My friends and I
compete to see who gets the best card. The teachers don't usually talk about the
cards. They just mention that if you don't do well you won't get a card. The
Renaissance assemblies are pretty cool for the most part The only thing that
bothers me is when people come and talk really seriously. That makes me very
depressed. I think that it's great that kids get recognized for good grades,
especially by community sponsors. That shows that the community actually
wants kids to be successful. The only thing that bothers me is how students
who don't get recognized for academic achievement must feel when everyone